By Jordan Latham
September 12 was a Saturday. Residents in the area who saw smoke plumes are quoted as believing careless neighbors were lighting illegal burn piles. You wonder what these folks would have done in that moment had they known what was coming, what action they would have taken to save their homes, their pets, their belongings.
A national disaster is by definition a sudden event that causes widespread destruction, lots of collateral damage or loss of life, brought about by forces other than acts of human beings. Just over 100 miles north of us, on a weekend at the beginning of the month, thousands of our fellow Californians fell victim to a fire that tore through their town. That Saturday September 12 was the first day of a fire that would prove it's self to be a natural disaster they would never forget.
The fire took hold so quickly, firefighters and local officials struggled to evacuate people fast enough. With hot temperatures and high winds, the fire jumped rapidly from home to home. YouTube footage of the fire leaping across a city st., taken on someone's phone, is spine tingling. On Monday September 14, for several hours, it rained. Those of us watching the news at home thought "thank goodness, it will help decrease the spreading and aid in calming the flames". Firefighters reported by Monday, the blaze had become so incredibly hot that the water literally disintegrated before getting anywhere close enough to be helpful. It was so hot that an entire day of rain didn't make a dent.
As of September 28 we ve been told by fire officials that the Valley fireis 97% contained. As the month of October begins more and more people are being allowed to return home. But for hundreds of people, that really means being allowed back into the property where a house previously stood.
In less than 20 days the Valley fire burnt through an estimated total of 1,958 buildings total. 1, 280 of those buildings were homes. 27 were apartment buildings or multi family structures. 66 buildings were commercial properties such as offices and stores, and 585 structures were barns, sheds and garages.
State officials are estimating a current number of 3000 people made homeless by the blaze. FEMA is offering trailers and some financial assistance to folks who suffered uninsured losses. The Calistoga andNapa County Fairgrounds have also been able to house several hundreds of people who have no where else to go. Red Cross has supplied meals and beds.
The community in Lake County and the adjacent Sonoma County have rallied to gather donations of supplies that are immediately necessary, such as underwear, flash lights, batteries, walkers and canes. Local bands played shows for the evacuees at the fair grounds. Walmart donated hot dogs and burgers to BBQ. People have held each other up, in the amazing way neighbors sometimes do when a community is faced by mutual tragedy.
The estimated cost to lake county has been 2.1 million dollars. And unlike Sonoma County next door, Lake County is a poorer area. With a median household income of 40,038$. For those without the necessary insurance to have everything replaced, rebuilding will be a long road.
There has been a wood shed identified as the origination point where the fire first caught. It was a simple structure, with out any electrical systems. There was no spark from a live wire, no smoldering cigarette to blame. Just incredibly dry wood and incredibly hot heat.
On January 17, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown declared a California drought emergency. As of January 2015, Clearlake it's self, with a surface area of 68 square miles, is two feet below average. On April 1, 2015 the California Department of Water Resources measured statewide water content of Sierra snowpack at 5% of it's usual average. This percentage is particularly disturbing because the beginning of April is when the runoff should be at it's peak. 2014 was the 3rd driest year in California on record in 119 years. It was also the hottest year on record. Taking these components under consideration, it does seem as though the state has been working up the perfect conditions for some serious wild fires. The drought had created some dangerously dry environments and the soaring temperatures did the rest. Add the wind, and the fire escalatedfrom bad to ferocious.
Since we are not returning home to fields of rubble, it's easy for us to read that the fire has been contained and just move on with our lives. For people who have only just discovered how much they really lost, the process of dealing with the aftermath if destruction is only just beginning. To help the relief effort, you can send checks directly to our local chapter of the Red Cross at 1663 Market st. San Francisco, CA 94103. They will continue to provide aid to those who are left homeless. There are also multiple upcoming fundraiser events.
On October 3rd at Cache Creek Vinyard and winery Tommy Castro and the Painkillers will preform with Maxx Cabello jr. 100% of the concert proceeds will go directly to support fire victims.
On November 15 at Atwood Ranch 12099 Sonoma Highway, there will be a fundraiser event calledBig Animal Rescue Night. Those of us living here in Oakland don't think livestock problems when we hear fire. But in largely rural areas around Lake County many folks who had to evacuate, were at a loss what to do with their cows and horses. When the whole area had to be evacuated as quickly as it happened, people had no time to plan the housing and transport of their large animals. Donations from Big Animal Rescue night go to an organization called Halter. Halters mission statement is to train first responders to aid rural livestock in emergency situations. More athalterfund.org/barn-event.
For more fundraising events and ways to donate, check out lovelakecounty.org.
Occurrences such as the Valley fireremind us to be mindful about staying prepared. Talk with your family about an exit plan should disaster strike, and stay current on fire insurance.
Really though when something like this happens, as quickly and as fiercely as this fire did, there was very little any one could do in the moment. So take some time to be grateful for your home and the safety of your family. Send a little kindness to those who had those blessings stripped from them. Those of us unaffected now serve as the pillars of support, neighbors lifting neighbors, out of the ashes.