Frantic weekend for Lake County evacuees in Valley fire


People wanting to let loved ones know of their status — or wanting to check on their loved ones — can do so at the American Red Cross site


People fleeing the Valley fire for an emergency evacuation center in Calistoga took with them more than 300 animals — horses, cows, cats, more than 150 dogs, and others — that are now lodged temporarily at the Napa County Fairgrounds.

Many came with hearts breaking over the animals they had to leave behind. One woman had to choose which three of her six horses she would bring, all that would fit in her trailer, said Pam Ingalls, president of Wine Country Animal Lovers, a nonprofit animal welfare group in Calistoga.

'it was just horrible stuff for people to have to deal with,' Ingalls said.

Ingalls and her colleagues were at the fairgrounds at 2 a.m. to help manage the incoming animals.

'People started pouring in,' she said. 'Most people said they had literally five minutes to get out — there were a lot of stories from people who couldn't get their animals out.'

The group, working with other organizations from St. Helena to Petaluma, also took in 28 animals who were resident at the Lakeport Animal Shelter and were, under official policy, to be euthanized to make room for evacuated animals.

All day people were calling to inquire after the whereabouts of their animals, she said.

'I probably took 100 calls, 'Do you have my animal?' " she said.

She had to tell them that the only animals her organization had accounted for came in with evacuees.

Officials at the Sonoma County Horse Council said they were ready to help if called upon.

'We have a network of private barns and ranches and people who have stepped forward and expressed a willingness to help and take in horses if they are needed,' said Elizabeth Palmer, president of the Horse Council, who can be reached at 478-8082.

The Horse Council has also been in communication with the Sonoma County Fair board and is ready to help if the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, which are equipped with stables, were to be opened to horses evacuated from the fire zone, Palmer said.

Also, the PetCare Veterinary Hospital in Santa Rosa is opening its two facilities, on Fulton Road and Mendocino Avenue, to evacuated pets free of charge. The hospital can be reached at 579-5900.


Janet and Gary Shields, residents of the Lazy S Ranch Resort outside Middletown, went into town around 2 p.m. Saturday to get food and other supplies and information about the fire. They got things like milk, fruit and a large sandwich that their dog got hold of, and went home — and within a few hours their lives were completely upturned. By Sunday they were among thousands of evacuees from the still uncontained Valley Fire trying to make sense of what had happened. The Shields, who were among hundreds of people at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga, fled their home when the power went out, between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday, about two hours before mandatory evacuations were ordered. PG&E officials said Sunday about 7,000 customers are without power in Lake County, although it's not known how many of those customers have surviving residences or businesses. The Shields are staying with a daughter in Napa and counting themselves lucky for what they have. 'I really don't care. I've got her,' said Gary Shields, speaking about his wife, 'and my dog, and that's all I need.' As the afternoon wound down in the fairgrounds, people were hunkering down for the evening. Tents were pitched in a large field. Mobile homes, trucks and cars were parked in the lot, where people sat in lawn chairs. People sought answers to questions for which there were not, immediately, answers: was this street address on this street in this town burned to the ground or standing? Clothes were arranged on fences and tables for evacuees to choose from. Volunteers still arrived with supplies ranging from pet food to toiletries. 'The most important thing I do is help people and listen,' said Nora Hiller, of Jameson Animal Rescue in St. Helena. She tells people ''I can't tell you it's going to ever be right, but I can tell you it's going to be better and we care,'' she said.


Sonoma County emergency officials have issued evacuation advisories to around 60 residents of Pine Flat and Geysers roads in Healdsburg and Geyserville, advising them to evacuate in the event the fire descends further into the county. There are no residents in immediate danger, and there is no immediate plan for mandatory evacuation, emergency officials said. But the blaze has crossed the county line and caused fire damage at The Geysers geothermal energy complex, officials said. It also has spread into the Big Sulphur Creek drainage, county officials said. An automated dial-up system was used to alert more than residences in the following areas to leave now or be prepared to leave on short notice, if necessary: Pine Flat Road, addresses 5000 and above; Geysers Road out of Healdsburg, addresses 6000 and above; Geysers Road out of Geyserville, addresses 9400 and above. Those with special evacuation needs should leave as soon as possible, emergency officials said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story misstated the nature of the advisory.


One of four Cal Fire firefighters injured fighting the Valley Fire remains in critical condition, hospitals said Sunday afternoon. Fire Capt. Pat Ward, who was leading the Copter 4 crew during the initial Saturday attack in Lake County, is in critical but stable condition at the UC Davis Medical Center, a nursing supervisor said. The other three firefighters — Niko Matteoli, Richard Reiff and Logan Pridmore — were all reported to be in fair condition at the same hospital. The men were all under the burn team's care, the nursing supervisor said. The state fire agency posted on its Facebook page a photograph of Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott visiting one of the injured men, whose arms were heavily bandaged but who was giving a thumbs up and smiling. The firefighter could not be identified.


Emergency officials from Sonoma and Napa counties are ramping up to confront the out-of-control Valley Fire, which has rampaged through southern Lake County and has crossed the line into both neighboring counties. The 1-day-old fire has caused 'significant damage' to three Calpine cooling towers in The Geysers geothermal energy complex in Sonoma County and forced evacuations in northern Pope Valley. Sonoma County Fire Chief Al Terrell said no local residents are as yet threatened by the fire, but emergency officials were preparing to use an automated calling system to put more than 80 households in the area on alert to watch for changing conditions. People in those areas would be wise to gather medications, important documents and the like, just in case, Terrell said. 'For the most part, we're trying to be as proactive as we can,' he said.


Help pouring into Lake County Sunday included dozens of people from various Sonoma County agencies — firefighters, sheriff's deputies, CHP officers and animal services officers while here in the county, officials have partly opened the office of emergency services due to the fire's spread into The Geysers area. About 50 Sonoma County firefighters from local agencies are in Lake County and another dozen or so are stationed up near The Geysers to battle flames at the geothermal facility. At least 10 Sonoma County deputies were helping with evacuations and numerous CHP officers from the Rohnert Park office also were in Lake County on the effort, officials from those agencies said. The county's health services department sent animal control officers to help Lake County counterparts handle a large number of pets and animals displaced by the fire. For information on family or friends in the fire area the Red Cross website 'Safe and Well' can help with connections at Donations also can be made to


A flood of donations and supplies into the emergency evacuation center in Calistoga filled an area a few hundred feet long along one of the fairground buildings. Blankets, food for humans and pets, clothes — there was so much that a Red Cross volunteer said the needs had changed. 'We pretty much have the logistics to get these folks through the next few days,' said Ron Reynolds. 'What we really need now is money to help these people get apartments and first and last month rents and security deposits." Every entrance to the fairgrounds was opened to accommodate all the people arriving in cars and trucks. People rested on cots next to their vehicles, others were in tents set up in grassy areas. The situation is 'safe and secure,' said 3rd District Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, although, she said, 'this place is not equipped or designed to have 500 people here taking showers and using the toilet facilities.' She said there is a law enforcement presence at the fairgrounds and 'there's more good here than anything else in terms of people helping people.'


Lake County schools officials said that all public schools in the county will be closed Monday. Those schools are Upper Lake High and Upper Lake Elementary, and the Lakeport, Lucerne, Kelseyville, Middletown and Konocti school districts. Some district offices will have minimal staffing, except for the Middletown office, which is closed. Yuba Community College will be open but there will be no classes on Monday.


Middletown, which suffered calamitous fire damage during the night, was quiet Sunday afternoon as several firefighters patrolled the town, looking for fire flare ups. 'There's not a wisp of wind. That's good,' said Jack Piccinini, a Santa Rosa Battalion Chief who is managing teams of firefighters who worked throughout the night to save homes and business, winning some and losing some. Many hours later they all remained on duty on 48-hour shifts – standard for such huge fires. No major issues were arising although the town's water system, which failed during the night, remained down. Sunday afternoon repair crews attempted to fix the system and firefighters still were pulling water from the local high school's swimming pool. Without the pool, Piccinini said, many more building would have been lost during the night's fight.


In just over 24 hours the Valley Fire has burned about 50,000 acres without any containment and forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people - mainly in southern Lake County. That information was given Sunday afternoon at a meeting at Kelseyville High School with a variety of fire, law and government officials and about 250 people. Cal Fire spokesman Todd Derum told the audience the fire is pushing ahead in all directions, including southeast into The Geysers in Sonoma County. He said the fire apparently started in the High Valley area on Cobb Mountain and initially was reported as a structure fire but what caused it remained under investigation. State Senator Mike McGuire also spoke, alerting the audience about Gov. Brown's order to declare the county a disaster area, allowing federal money to be available. 'This has been a hell of a 90 days for Lake County,' McGuire said, referring to the earlier Rocky and Jerusalem fires that already burned huge sections of the rural county. 'We're facing historic conditions in our community.' Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin urged the audience to obey evacuation orders, noting deputies had to go back and rescue people who hadn't left when ordered out. He also told people that once out, to be ready to be away from their homes for at least a few days, calling the fire 'the worst tragedy Lake County has ever seen.'


Businesses and residents around Geyserville are closely watching the status of the voracious Valley Fire, which moved into Sonoma County Sunday afternoon and had burned three cooling towers at The Geysers geothermal energy complex, about 20 miles from the tiny Alexander Valley town. 'We're definitely keep an eye on it, for sure,' said Becca Belitz, a guest services associate at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. People have been calling the winery and restaurant all day to see whether they should cancel, she said, but in the end most have chosen to make the trip. At the Geyserville Inn, front desk receptionist Amy Gagarin said 'It's a little smoky up here, but it's safe, as far as I can see.' Speaking of those affected in Lake County, he added, 'Oh, man, it's so sad.'


The Valley Fire has burned some of The Geysers geothermal energy facilities in the mountains above northern Sonoma County and six fire engines are heading to the area to combat further spread of the massive blaze. 'They've lost some cooling towers at The Geysers,' said Gold Ridge Fire Chief Dan George, who supervises strike team orders. At least three of the wooden towers reportedly have burned. How critical that is to operations at the electrical power facility wasn't initially clear, but the cooling towers are used to reduce the temperature of the water used to produce electricity, George said. Three of the engines were from Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Valley Ford and three were from Marin County. 'They need help with the infrastructure,' George said. 'The fire is well established on the Sonoma County side.


Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant tweeted that 'while crews have not had a chance to do a full damage assessment on the Valley Fire … we know 100s of structures have been destroyed.'


Shock and sorrow patrolled the Napa County Fairground Sunday, as evacuees from the massive Valley Fire coped with upheaval and potentially devastating losses. They cried and consoled each other. They tried to find whether their homes had burned or not. They walked around the fairgrounds dumbfounded. They recalled fleeing under the terrifying pressure of approaching conflagration. ''In the past we've talked about it several times, what the conditions would require for an evacuation, and all those conditions were met,' said Fletcher Thornton, 76, who lives on Middletown's outskirts, speaking about his and his wife's decision to escape. Sharon Woita, heard from a friend that her home on Santa Barbara Avenue in Middletown burned. 'There were planes flying over, they were so low it was like you could touch the planes.' she said in tears, recalling the scene when she evacuated. Sunday afternoon at the fairgrounds, 3rd District Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said unofficial estimates are that there are as many as 500 evacuees at the site seeking shelter and services. Some have left since morning, though, she said. While there is plenty of food, blankets, clothes and dog food on hand, there are inadequate shower and toilet facilities, she said.


Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday morning declared a state of emergency Sunday covering Lake and Napa counties due to the effects of the Valley Fire. The proclamation mobilizes the California National Guard to assist with disaster response and relief efforts. It also authorizes state agencies to deploy personnel, equipment and facilities in response to the Valley fire, under the direction of the state Office of Emergency Services. It instructs citizens to heed the advice of emergency officials to protect their safety. The declaration incorporates provisions from an executive order issued last month to expedite the debris removal process and waive fees to replace documents, such as birth certificates, for those affected by the fire. Brown said a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant has been requested and approved for the Valley Fire.


The Sonoma County CHP has closed Highway 128 at the River Rock Casino in Geyserville, moving one of several area road closures closer down the valley. According to the CHP, a Cal Pine power facility up on The Geysers was evacuated by workers earlier in the day due to the fire encroaching from Lake County. Initial accounts indicated no fire had reached the area. Sunday morning all roads into The Geysers geothermal fields facilities in Sonoma County were either closed or controlled, although the CHP reported some drivers still were using the rural routes to try and get into Lake County. The southern Lake County fire started near Cobb and has been moving down the hill into The Geysers region. The CHP is assessing it's path and whether it's heading further into Sonoma County.


Lake County Supervisor Jim Comstock described fighting to save his own Hidden Valley Lake home and how his family dodged the rushing Valley Fire's flames. Speaking about his wife, daughter and three grandchildren, and several caretakers of the neighboring Lucchetti Ranch, 'They went out into the irrigated pastures to wait it out — and they were safe.' A Cal Fire crew helped him and his son, who came up from San Francisco, to cut line at about 3 a.m. Sunday, Comstock said, saving his own ranch home. He said a neighbor lost three rental homes and two barns but was able to save his primary residence. 'This one is monstrous,' he said of the Valley Fire. 'It's way more devastating in the loss of houses' than the Jerusalem and the Rocky fires that torched Lake County in August. He hasn't seen the town he represents, Middletown, he said, but 'I understand it's pretty well leveled.' Lake County will bend but not break, he said matter-of-factly. 'We're tough up here. Everybody's working hard and doing what they have to do.'


Heavy smoke over much of the region has grounded air tankers, helicopters and spotter planes battling the Valley Fire, according to Cal Fire. Cal Fire spokesman Mike Parkes said it wasn't clear how long the aircraft would remain on the ground. The loss of air tankers and the helicopters eliminates a key firefighting tool for such a huge wildland blaze but the loss of spotter planes also takes away eyes in the sky for fire officials attempting to assess where the blaze is moving and whether imminent perils exist. Further hurdles in the effort included that Middletown's water system remained out of commission and power was out in the area, Parkes said.


The Valley Fire, which spread earlier into Sonoma County from the Cobb area, reportedly is moving in on The Geysers and threatening a power station, according to the CHP. CHP Sgt. Robert Boyer said a CHP officer was sent to Geyserville late Sunday morning to assess the fire's progress. Heavy smoke has grounded Cal Fire air tankers and spotter planes, creating a need for more effort from the ground to assess the situation and determine if any evacuations could be needed, he said. The CHP since early Sunday morning has allowed only residents onto roadways in the area, including Geysers Road. The CHP closed Pine Flat and Ida Clayton roads at Highway 128, he said.


Mandatory evacuations late Sunday morning were issued for Clear Lake Riviera, an area of about 3,000 residents. The Pope Valley area also was under mandatory evacuations, along Aetna Springs Road into Pope Valley, up to the historic Pope Valley Store and garage at the intersection of Pope Valley Road and Howell Mountain Road, according to Cal Fire. Evacuation advisories are in place for North Angwin in the area of Livermore Road and Summit Lake Drive. And the 40,000-acre fire has been confirmed to be moving into The Geysers area of Sonoma County, though Cal Fire spokeswoman Veronica Barclay said little more is known about that situation yet, and that no advisory has been issued.


For hours Saturday night into Sunday morning firefighters battled it out in Middletown, halting the fire's push on the east side of town then over to do the same on the west side with a mixture of saves and losses. The fire seemed to be everywhere in town, said Jack Piccinini, a Santa Rosa Fire battalion chief who worked the fire line all night with several Sonoma County and Cal Fire firefighters. 'We tried to save the hamburger joint. Propane tanks were shooting off left and right. We were standing there and right before our eyes a commercial building in a little strip mall across from the Chevron station' burst into flames. 'We saved that. It was a good save.' But then a nearby apartment complex became engulfed in flames. 'It just kept snowballing.' Then the town lost it's water system and there was nothing in the hydrants. The crews turned to the nearby high school swimming pool and filled water tankers with that water. 'That kind of saved us,' Piccinini said.


Some homes were destroyed in the gated residential community of Hidden Valley Lakes, just outside of Middletown, but Sunday morning much of the residential area remained standing. About a half dozen homes had burned along Meadow View Drive, near Fiddlers Drive. Other blocks were totally untouched. The area was evacuated Saturday night and Sunday it was devoid of residents and animals but there were numerous firefighters and several fire engines in the area watching for flare ups along the community's perimeter.


Firefighters working in Hidden Valley Lake during the night were alerted that a wall of fire was descending on Middletown and Santa Rosa fire Battalion Chief Jack Piccinini, Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman and at five engines rushed back to town to try to help stop it. 'The fire was headed into Middletown and we had to get there ahead of it. We did. It just didn't care that we were there,' said Piccinini. 'We were doing classic, 'go to a structure and try to save it. Go to a structure and try to save it.'' With fire virtually in numerous areas of town 'we finally had to draw a line down the middle of the street' and decide which houses they could save and which would burn. 'The crews did an awesome job but we couldn't save everything we went to,' he said.


Harbin Hot Springs, a popular clothing-optional resort northwest of Middletown, also apparently was ruined, at least in part, from the fire. Cal Fire spokesman David Shew said Sunday of Harbin: 'It's pretty well destroyed.'

UPDATE: 10 a.m. COBB

Saturday's fire swept through the communities of Anderson Springs, Whispering Pines and Hoberg's, all on Cobb Mountain, leaving charred ruins in its wake. Businesses in Cobb were mostly untouched but houses on either side of Highway 175 were destroyed. Downed power lines and fallen trees made the rural highway almost impassable still on Sunday. Burned-out cars were left on the shoulders and in driveways of smoldering houses. Hoberg's Resort, a historic landmark dating back to the 1880s, was completely destroyed. Only its chimneys and foundation remain.

UPDATE: 9:50 a.m. COBB

The fire, which started near the mountain community of Cobb, raced through the dry brush and overran homes before some people were alerted to evacuate, according to fire officials. Lake County deputies were going to search homes, believing they might find some bodies, said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, who was leading a strike team of Sonoma County firefighters battling the blaze. 'It moved so fast people couldn't get out of Cobb. They have to get cadaver dogs to go up there,' Baxman said Sunday morning.


Amidst the blackened streets of Middletown, resident Shelley Leese's home stands like an oasis.

Her vegetable garden remains green and pumpkins are growing. Across the street, what was an apartment complex now is a charred ruin. Leese and her boyfriend were evacuated during the night from their home on the corner of Highway 175 and Barnes Street. She returned Sunday morning, unsure what she would find and was shocked to see her home intact. 'We were so scared. This is everything to us. I'm really sad for our neighbors and our town.'

Staff writer Paul Payne contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or or on Twitter@rossmannreport.

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