Fatal fire rips across tiny Redwood Valley
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.”