After the Valley fire, campers face cold, eviction
Two months after fleeing the massive fire that destroyed their Middletown apartment along with more than 1,300 other homes and 76,067 acres of forest and wildlands, the Madrigal-Lopez family is still living in a travel trailer at the Hidden Valley Lake campground.
But the onslaught of winter and the planned closure of the campground have them rethinking their limited options.
“It’s very cold,” said Rozio Madrigal, who also recently discovered that the loaned travel trailer leaks when it rains.
Most people displaced by the Valley fire apparently have found lodging at motels, with family, or elsewhere, but for a variety of reasons, some families remained this week at the campgrounds, several sleeping in tents, others in trailers. Still others have set up camp on their fire-ravaged properties as they sort out their next action.
It’s unclear how many people were displaced by the Valley fire, in part because many of the destroyed houses were likely second homes or vacation cabins, Lake County spokeswoman Jill Ruzicka said Wednesday.
About 2,500 people have signed up for some type of disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, spokesman Steven Solomon said. Damage from the fire has been estimated at more than $1.5 billion .
Not all of the 30 or so Hidden Valley Lake campsites are occupied by people whose homes were destroyed. Many belong to long-term campers, some of whom had their former campsites destroyed by the fire.
Many have tarps covering their leak-prone tents and trailers to keep out the rain, add another layer against the biting cold and extend their living quarters. The grounds also contain two white tents loaded with food and other donated supplies for the refugees. Outside the supplies tent is a large barbecue and a clothes washer and dryer on loan from the local Moose Lodge.
Within weeks, it could all disappear. The Hidden Valley Lake homeowners association plans to shutter the campground out of concern about flooding from the nearby stream, leaving its inhabitants with no choice but to move on.
Madrigal said she doesn’t know where her family will go. She and her husband have been trying unsuccessfully to find an apartment they can afford while remaining reasonably close to Middletown, about 8 miles from the campground and where their two children, 11 and 17, attend school.
“It’s very expensive, the rent is now,” said Madrigal. Others also have complained about a spike in rents since the fires. There’s nothing available even close to the $730 a month Madrigal had been paying, she said.
To make matters worse, both Madrigal and her husband, Cirilo Lopez, are now unemployed. Her husband’s seasonal vineyard work in Napa County has come to an end and her job as a cook went up in smoke when Harbin Hot Springs burned down in the Valley Fire.
FEMA has offered motel vouchers to fire-displaced families, but there aren’t a lot of temporary options in Lake County.
The emergency agency has contracted rooms at the shuttered Konocti Harbor resort, where more than 50 families are now housed. More units are available, but it’s located nearly 30 miles from the schools Madrigal’s children attend.
Her 17-year-old daughter, Alejandra Lopez, said she doesn’t mind remaining in a campground if it means she can graduate from Middletown High School with her friends. She has attended schools in Middletown since first grade.