USA TODAY US Edition
More fire risk in California
Snow pack is at its lowest level in 500 years
Corie Barloggi looked across a charred field in this once scenic Northern California town, best known for hot springs and its proximity to Napa Valley, and was struck by what she didn’t see: her neighbors’ homes.
“They’re gone, absolutely gone,” the third-grade teacher said as firefighting airplanes circled above and the wind whipped ashes across charred trees and smoldering power lines.
These gray and lifeless images, more reminiscent of war than the mellow gold hills that draw retirees, are the remains of the huge and largely unchecked Valley Fire that swept through California’s Lake County this weekend, destroying at least 400 homes in the town and nearby area about 90 miles north of San Francisco.
The fire, intensified by the state’s extreme drought conditions, resulted in the death of one person and displaced 13,000 people. At 61,000 acres, it was only 5% contained late Monday. About 200 miles away, southeast of Sacramento, the Butte wildfire, about 30% contained, has destroyed about 80 homes and burned 71,000 acres.
Barloggi and her husband, Ken, were at a barbecue Saturday when the fire broke out. They rushed home to collect their puppy, Miss Belle, and Ken’s heart medication, but they found their evacuation blocked by downed power lines.
Their single-family ranch home survived, perhaps helped by Ken’s decision to plow the fields around their house. “We got extremely lucky,” said Corie, 48.
Other parts of Middletown were far worse. As the fire hopscotched across town, one apartment building was reduced to rubble. Some power lines were still burning, throwing up orange flames across the gray haze. The silence was broken by roosters crowing near the shells of burned-out cars and houses.
Power officials worked to restore power, but they fought a losing battle. Flames licked at many poles, several of which appeared ready to snap, nearly burned through. Around the corner flapped a metal street sign, melted and bent from the intense fire’s heat.
Most homeowners and residents were kept out of the area, which is filled with sheriff ’s deputies and highway patrol officers monitoring the evacuation zone for looters.
Many evacuees from Middletown and the surrounding areas in Lake County have had to pick up quickly and leave many of their belongings. The American Red Cross opened two shelters in neighboring town Calistoga, Calif., at the Napa Fairgrounds and a high school.
“People are telling me they were given five or six minutes to get whatever they could and get out. If you’re an animal person, and most of us up here are, that means you grab your pet,” said Jeff Charter, director of the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation.
Charter says they’ve seen about 400 companion animals: about 150 dogs, plus cats, goats, horses, pigs and reptiles.
“There’s really no end in sight, people keep coming in,” he said.
The fire burned through the businesses that lure people from the San Francisco Bay Area looking for fresh air and a slower pace.
The clothing-optional Harbin Hot Springs yoga resort was burned through, as was the Shed Horn Cellars winery. The winerydense area has seen four other major fires that caused evacuations and mild damage in the past 60-75 days.
South of town, miles of white plastic fence surrounding the Langtry Vineyard have melted and slumped to the charred ground.