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As the Valley fire ripped through Lake County last week, burning hundreds of homes to the ground and taking at least three lives, rural communities stretching from Cobb Mountain to Hidden Valley to Middletown were living what some have described as “a nightmare.” There were countless acts of heroism as emergency responders saved people, animals and homes.

In a series of vignettes, we explore the fire’s impact on six people. Extended video interviews online shed light on first responders’ and residents’ stories about the moments leading up to the blaze, the emotional aftermath, and turning points that led to the fire’s explosion. (see video interviews at http://pd2go.net/cl92Mg)

Daniel Glover, Hidden Valley

Glover described his home on Hartman Lane as his “paradise,” where he lived with his beloved dogs and cats. Glover’s home is now ash and rubble. In tears, he said he is heartbroken not knowing if his dogs are safe.

“It’s a mind-blowing experience to know that you have lost everything,” he said. “I’m totally empty.”

Glover said he was unaware he was in the fire’s destructive path until it was too late.

“I didn’t know to leave,” Glover said at the evacuation center in Clearlake. “I called the police station, I called Cal Fire, I called 911. There was no answer. Then all of a sudden, it was all around me. It was like a nightmare.”

By the time he realized the blaze was burning a path to his home, Glover’s escape route was ablaze.

“I looked around and there was nowhere to get out,” he said. “So I got into my Jacuzzi and pulled the top over my head, with just a little bit cracked so I could see out.”

Then, he heard a voice yelling something in the distance.

It was CHP Officer Jake Slates, who was escorting a water truck into the heart of the fire. Slates had stopped to check on Glover. The officer saved Glover’s life, fire officials said. Within minutes, the hot tub was up in flames.

Jake Slates, CHP officer based in Ukiah

“I’m no hero. I was just doing my job,” Slates said. “I was finishing up my shift when the fire broke out, so I went out there. Then I got a call saying someone might still be in the house.”

Slates’ boss, Sgt. Josh Dye, lived next door to Glover. Dye told Slates that if he saw a truck in Glover’s driveway, Glover was still in the house.

Meanwhile, Glover was dumping water on the blaze in a last-ditch effort to save his eight dogs.

“I heard the dogs, so I let them out,” Slates said. “Then I heard a call — ‘Hey, over here.’ ”

Slates described the fire as both eerily silent, because most people had evacuated, and deafening.

“The winds were so loud that, at times, it sounded like a freight train,” Slates said. “Flames were shooting through the roof, trees were on fire, the ground was on fire.

“He was alive and breathing, so the most important thing was to get him out of there.”

Jeanna Russ, Cobb Mountain

Russ, who lives on Cobb Mountain with her husband and children, described the harrowing first moments after she learned of the fire. Suddenly, it seemed, she and her husband were covered in flame retardant.

“That’s when I realized how serious it was,” she said.

It was unclear Friday if Russ’ home was still standing, and if it was, what kind of damage it sustained. She was one of the first to arrive at the evacuation center at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga and remained there this weekend.

“We’re going to rebuild,” Russ said. “We’re going to get our community back.”

Gary Herrin, Middletown

Herrin, along with his two sons and three family friends, fought back against the Valley fire as it spread from Cobb Mountain to Middletown.

“We didn’t think twice. We knew if we didn’t try, everything would be gone,” Herrin said.

“You feel bad when 100 people you know have lost everything. This whole community is agonizing, but we’re going to come together and help one another.”

Steve Baxman, Monte Rio fire chief

Baxman, who was part of the response team during the first 24 hours of the inferno, said firefighters were assaulted with flames on all sides.

“The winds were going in different directions, the embers were dropping everywhere, propane tanks were exploding,” Baxman said in an interview at the Monte Rio fire station. “That’s what was tough about it, and the drought made everything worse because it made everything so much drier.”

Greg Bertelli, Cal Fire battalion chief

Bertelli was on duty when the blaze first started the afternoon of Sept. 12. He was driving over Cobb Mountain between meetings in Middletown and Kelseyville when the fire started. He called the fire “unprecedented” and “historic.”

“Middletown was like a battle zone, with homes burning and propane tanks burning up,” Bertelli said. “Making the decision to evacuate from Clearlake to Tubbs Lane was aggressive, but I felt it needed to be done because the fire … could have shifted and become a lot more dangerous and deadly.”

For complete wildfire coverage go to: www.pressdemocrat.com/wildfire.

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