Exactly one year ago, the Valley Fire carved a disastrous, charred-burnt path through already-ravaged Lake County. The long-term recovery process is ongoing as the county continues to be besieged by seemingly endless fire activity.
Almost 11 months after a homeowner’s faulty outdoor hot tub wiring sparked the massive Valley Fire last year, Lake County residents were again reeling from another destructive wildfire.
The Clayton Fire burned 3,929 acres and destroyed 300 structures. Due to the severity of the blaze, combined with recent fire history in the county, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Director Mark Ghilarducci and Chief Deputy Director Nancy Ward, along with the National Guard, Cal FIRE and local officials, toured Lower Lake on Aug. 16 to witness firsthand observations of the fire’s destruction.
Lake County is becoming accustomed to having to recover from some of the state’s worst wildfires.
The Valley Fire is the third-worst wildfire in California history based on total structures burned. In a span of 47 days, three separate fires ripped through Lake County in 2015. The Rocky Fire began July 29, followed less than two weeks later by the Jerusalem Fire on Aug. 9. The worst of the three – the Valley Fire – started Sept. 12.
Lake County, which is located in California’s Wine Country near Napa and Mendocino counties and is 125 miles north of San Francisco, was engulfed by the fast-moving Valley Fire once it ignited near Cobb Mountain just after 1 p.m. Within the next five hours, the blaze had already scorched 10,000 acres. By the next day, the fire had spread to 50,000 acres and the towns of Cobb Mountain, Middletown, Whispering Pines and the south end of Hidden Valley Lake were destroyed.
The fire burned 76,000 acres, destroyed 1,330 homes, and nearly 1,900 businesses and agricultural buildings were damaged. Four people died and four firefighters were injured. Approximately 20,000 residents were evacuated.
“We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the Valley Fire,” said Senator Mike McGuire. “This tragedy changed this town and lives forever.”
Cal OES served an intricate role in the immediate aftermath, and later on, in the recovery phase. More than $19 million was approved for public assistance projects for the Valley Fire, including the removal of hazard trees and road repairs as well as additional funding for the town of Cobb once clean-up efforts had been completed.
With residents displaced from their homes, Cal OES housed elderly, families with small children and those with special needs at the once-shuttered Konocti Harbor Resort, and also organized temporary housing while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) worked to provide sheltering assistance.
“We will continue to play a major role in the recovery and rebuilding efforts for as long as we are needed,” Ward told residents at a town-hall meeting on June 16. “From day one Cal OES staff has been here, not only for the Valley Fire but also for the Rocky and Jerusalem fires as well, and we’ll be here for the long haul.”
After touring the Valley Fire just days after it started, Ghilarducci and Ward determined four immediate needs: direct property removal, accommodate housing for displaced residents, coordinate emergency managers and advance county funds. Cal OES continues to provide technical assistance along with hazard mitigation projects and working with county officials on repairs.
Additional assistance from various agencies included:
- Cal OES staffed two Local Assistance Centers/Disaster Recovery Centers to accommodate resources for Valley Fire survivors.
- The Department of Social Services (CDSS) funded 46 State Supplemental Grant Program maximum grants to survivors, totaling $46,000.
- Cal FIRE deployed more than 4,000 personnel to Lake County. The total cost was $59 million.
- Due to the volume of debris, Cal OES, in conjunction with the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), initiated its debris removal project from burn areas on Oct. 12, 2015. The final truck load of debris was removed from Middletown on June 17, 2016. The cost for debris operations was $160 million, a project which included removal from 1,176 residential and seven commercial properties.
“I can only hope that in the future that the leadership qualities and tireless, dedicated and passionate local officials is the same in any community that we go in,” said Ward, who prior to Cal OES spent 15 years with FEMA. “This was unprecedented in my experiences.”
Federal programs were requested to assist eligible survivors in a variety of areas in Lake County. The Individuals and Households Program was designed to assist in temporary housing rentals, repairs and/or replacement. The Other Needs Assistance Program allocated funds to assist eligible households with personal property losses, funeral, medical/dental, vehicle repair/replacement and child care costs.
Mental health assistance and training activities through community-based outreach was funded through the Crisis Counseling Program, and unemployment benefits for workers and self-employed individuals who lost their jobs or had their work hours substantially reduced were aided through the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program.
Temporary sheltering due to limited rental resources was supported by the Transitional Assistance Program, while Emergency Critical Needs Assistance provided immediate help for those with specific needs.
“My heart is with Lake County,” Ward said. “Thank you for being so resilient and a model community, and through the devastation showing the world your resiliency.”
As Lake County continues to recover and rebuild, Senator McGuire confirmed that $7.5 million in funding had been secured to build a sewer system in Anderson Springs, where approximately 120 residences were destroyed.
The rebuilding process had been slowed due to residential lots being extremely small and close to a stream to legally accommodate septic systems. Permits had already been issued for more than 70 homes and nearly 30 mobile homes as of June.
McGuire also informed residents that grants of up to $60,000 each would be available for those uninsured or underinsured to assist in building new homes. More than $2.5 million has been raised through the Lake County Fire Victim’s Relief Fund.