It’s Homecoming Week for Middletown High School. A rally in the gym was planned for last night. The Mustangs were scheduled to play a home football game against the El Molino Lions Friday night
None of that is happening. There was no school yesterday and there will be no school today.
It’s Homecoming, but many of the Middletown Mustangs have nothing to come home to.
“The whole town is basically completely devastated by this fire,” said Bill Foltmer, the football coach at Middletown High School for the past three decades.
The Valley Fire, which exploded into a fast moving inferno Saturday afternoon, has scorched more than 61,000 acres, razed an estimated 1,000 structures and is the cause of at least one death.
“No one is exempt from this one,” Foltmer said. “School board members, teachers, players, friends. This is hard one, you know?”
Foltmer, who was evacuated from his Hidden Valley home, knows his house still stands. He also knows he’s lucky.
“There are other people who don’t have any idea at all whether their house is gone,” he said. “It doesn’t burn down like halfway, it’s completely devastating. It’s ashes.”
Foltmer was evacuated from Hidden Valley and spent Saturday night in the Walmart parking lot and the past two nights at a ranch in Willits owned by the Hart family. Tony Hart is coach of the junior varsity football squad at Middletown High.
Hart and his wife Lisa lost their home in town. It was the place he built in 2000 with his father, and with a little muscle from Foltmer, from wood harvested from the family ranch in Willits. Now there is nothing left.
When the fire ignited, Tony Hart was in Napa for work. He never had a chance to grab anything to take with him. Nothing. Saturday evening, his phone rang and it was his neighbor.
“It was about 6:03. He was in tears and said “It’s gone,’” he said.
Foltmer said the devastation is everywhere and has touched everyone. It’s the beauty and tragedy of living in a small town.
“In this community, just about everyone who lost their homes, you know them,” he said.
“I have never seen anything like this,” Foltmer said.
And he hasn’t even seen it all.
Most people are prevented from going back into the area where the fire ripped through.
“Nobody can even get into Lake County right now,” he said. “I don’t even know where half of my kids are.”
His kids are his football players, his students at Middletown Middle School and all of the Mustang family.
As he was talking to me, Foltmer spied two students he knew walking down the street in Calistoga, where the largest of the Valley Fire shelters is being staged. Such is life when all tethers to normal seem to have been severed.
The upside? Honestly, there aren’t many. But there are a few.
There’s the text Tony Hart got from freshman Drake Harbison who plays on his JV squad, expressing condolences.
“A 14-year-old freshman boy thought about me. That’s pretty cool,” he said.
Foltmer, in the business of teaching kids more than 30 years, has been getting calls and texts from coaches he knows well and some he doesn’t. All have a similar theme: “What can I do?”