Fa­tal fire rips across tiny Red­wood Val­ley

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NATION - By Michael Ca­banat­uan and Carolyn Said Michael Ca­banat­uan and Carolyn Said are San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writ­ers. Email: [email protected]­i­cle.com, MCa­banat­[email protected]­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @CSaid, @ctuan

RED­WOOD VAL­LEY, Men­do­cino County — At least one per­son died as a wild­fire burned through this small Men­do­cino County town, and of­fi­cials warned Mon­day of what they might dis­cover as they pick through the charred land­scape.

Red­wood Val­ley, a town of some 2,000 peo­ple about 8 miles north of Ukiah, had one con­firmed fa­tal­ity as a di­rect re­sult of the Red­wood Com­plex Fire. The blaze grew to an es­ti­mated 19,000 acres by Mon­day af­ter­noon, said Pa­tri­cia Austin, a spokes­woman for the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion. Two peo­ple also suf­fered se­ri­ous burn in­juries, she said.

Author­i­ties fear more peo­ple were trapped in homes that were in­cin­er­ated Sun­day night, said sher­iff ’s Capt. Gre­gory Van Pat­ten.

“There were ar­eas where there just wasn’t enough time to give an evac­u­a­tion no­tice be­cause the spread of the fire was so rapid,” he said.

A se­ries of 14 fires con­sumed tens of thou­sands of acres in eight North­ern Cal­i­for­nia coun­ties, killed at least 10 peo­ple, in­jured more than 100, and de­stroyed more than 1,500 homes and com­mer­cial fa­cil­i­ties.

The Red­wood Com­plex Fire was the re­sult of two fires merg­ing — the Pot­ter Val­ley and Red­wood Val­ley fires. “Un­der the dark of night, all the smoke, they com­bined,” Austin said.

“This morn­ing, it looked like the whole val­ley was socked in with fog,” Van Pat­ten said. “But it wasn’t — it was smoke.”

Sixty to 80 county work­ers are ded­i­cated to help­ing with evac­u­a­tions and other fir­ere­lated sit­u­a­tions, Van Pat­ten said. “We’re al­ready see­ing loot­ing,” he said. “We in­ter­rupted a bur­glary (in an evac­u­ated home) and made an ar­rest.”

Out­side the Red­wood Val­ley Mar­ket, vir­tu­ally the only busi­ness in town that was still open, about 300 peo­ple milled around, their cars packed with pos­ses­sions.

They waited for news of their homes and de­cided whether to go to evac­u­a­tion cen­ters, said Alex Che­hada, who has owned the mar­ket for 15 years.

“Some cus­tomers are al­ready say­ing they lost houses,” he said. “We can see the moun­tains burn­ing.”

The mar­ket still had power, un­like most of the town, but Che­hada ex­pected the elec­tric­ity and phone ser­vice to go soon. His em­ploy­ees were hand­ing out wa­ter and sand­wiches.

At Ukiah High School, the main evac­u­a­tion cen­ter for Men­do­cino County, sev­eral hun­dred fire evac­uees, some from as far away as Santa Rosa 60 miles to the south, set­tled into the gym on cots pro­vided by the Red Cross.

“The spirit is def­i­nitely somber, but there’s a sense of com­mu­nity, of peo­ple com­ing to­gether,” said Gabriel Sher­man, di­rec­tor of main­te­nance, op­er­a­tions and trans­porta­tion for Ukiah Uni­fied School District. “At one point this morn­ing we had more vol­un­teers than we had com­mu­nity mem­bers tak­ing shel­ter.”

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