In California we worry about three types of natural disasters; earthquakes, floods, and wildfires. Earthquakes are useless to be concerned about because they are so random and eventually, if you live in California, you will be in one. You just prepare, prepare, prepare. Floods only hit once in awhile and usually in areas around bodies of water. The Sacramento Delta is probably the next Katrina style event and the government knows this. However most of California will not experience flooding. Fires? Fires are frightening. You never know where or when they will occur and with the drought creating conditions that are tinder-box dry, they move with insane speed and intensity. Most of California is in danger from wildfires. Remember the Oakland Hills? San Diego? Lassen? Mendocino County in 2008? Wildfires can strike anywhere.
I’ve been to Middletown many, many times. Usually the occasion is to golf at Hidden Valley Lakes Golf Course, a nice course that has a good variety of holes for a reasonable price. My father and I often commented that the brush on the back nine was so dry and would go up quickly if it were to catch fire. I guess I really had no idea. The fire started at 1:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, September 12. Within twelve hours the fire had consumed 40,000 acres. Think about that.
The devastation in southern Lake County is brutal. Around 600 homes destroyed, the lives lost (right now at five) will be determined over the coming weeks, and the psychological impacts will be felt for a decade. I’ve been close to two stories from the area. One was someone who had family that lived in the burn zone but their home survived the disaster. The other was a staff member at Ukiah High that lost everything. Both stories were harrowing and gut wrenching.
One positive has been the attitude of Northern California in helping the fire victims. On Sunday one of my students took a horse trailer into the disaster zone trying to rescue horses and livestock. People opened up homes, campgrounds, restaurants, hotels…..you name it and people are donating like crazy. My classroom raised over $100 in pure cash donations in four days by simple charity box style. On Friday the school held a really awesome volleyball fundraiser that allowed different Fall Sports teams compete against each other and the staff. It was a blast to play in and we raised $8,000 to help out Middletown’s athletic programs. The vibe was a good one and I was proud to be a part of something positive for southern Lake County.
With the news cycle over, now the focus needs to be on maintaining a compassionate vigilance to the fire victims of those devastated communities. That area of Lake County has been absolutely hammered by wildfires this year. The Valley Fire has currently burned over 75,000 acres. A month ago the Jerusalem Fire, just to the west of the Valley Fire, burned 25,000 acres. And at the end of July the Rocky Fire, both north and west of the Valley Fire, scorched another 70,000 acres. Being one of the poorest counties in the state makes recovery and reconstruction vital to any socio-economic viability for the citizens of this area. Not only should we not forget, we should make a mission to reinvigorate Lake County with help from Northern Californians; from construction help to grief counseling, from rebuilding roads, homes, and resorts to rebuilding the spirit of those that lost all that they owned.
Let’s get to work!