After the Valley Fire

Late afternoon of Saturday, September 12th, I saw smoke rising up from behind Cobb Mountain, about 10 miles away. The wind was blowing harder than I ever recall in the last year and a half since I moved to Hidden Valley Lake (HVL), in Lake County, California. I hoped it was a control burn. After maybe a half hour I could see it was getting out of hand and large pieces of ash were now falling on my deck!
415pm
(4:15 pm, looking West, toward Cobb Mtn.)

In what seemed to be no time, I could see flames coming from either side of the peak, each side being miles apart. I decided to run into Middletown, for what, I can’t remember. As I arrived I could see the fire had been running up the valley towards town and so I turned around to head back, and realized the fire moved so fast it had crossed Hwy 29, from where I’d just driven!
Middletown.sm
(Hwy 29, looking east, toward HVL 5:34pm.)

As I got within a couple miles of HVL, I could see the fire had crossed the road and so after pulling over for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles, I followed them through the fire to get to my place.
Hwy29.sm
(Hwy 29, 1 mi from HVL. 6:03pm)

When I got home and looked out over the lake, toward where the fire had started, I could see flames lighting the smoke that that was rising up from the base of our community, so I began to grab what I’d flee with!
Fire.sm
(Looking West toward Cobb. 6:17pm)

I started collecting things to take - passport, transparencies, some clothes and camping equipment, etc.. When I took the first load out to my truck, away from where the fire was coming, I realized an ember had dropped into the community, up from my house, and was now 15 yards from my neighbor’s place, and he was leaving!

I threw everything together and headed out, but, one block away I could see traffic was at a stand still. I decided to go back for a few things and noticed an 87 yr old woman standing in the cul-de-sac, above my house. She said her son was fighting the fire behind their house. I went to lend a hand and ended up dragging my hose over so we could reach the fire. He ended up taking his mother away and after about 30 minutes I thought I’d actually stopped the fire from taking the row of homes above me (Later found that the fire also came from another direction and burned the lot of them.) As the fire came down the hill, igniting the homes, the sound, the heat, and the smoke became too much. After moving my car from the garage to an area that had already burned, I took this photo of my immediate neighbor’s place before jumping in the truck and leaving:
Neighbors.sm
(Neighbor’s home engulfed. 8:18pm)

The next day I volunteered at the evacuation center in Calistoga - was good to do something productive! After that and since then, I’ve been staying at a friend’s in Cotati.

It took about a week to get confirmation that I’d lost my home and shop. Its been a roller coaster ride since then - grateful for all the support from so many individuals and groups, wondering how to work, then hopeful that the future is bright and the fire was necessary for it to happen, then remembering more stuff that no longer exists, etc., etc..

I had some friends talk me into doing a “GoFundMe” campaign to try and raise money to get my shop back up and running. The support through that effort has been humbling and the words of encouragement and concern are inspiring. You can check it out here:
https://www.gofundme.com/johnhansesfire. I would ask that if you contribute, please select an image for a “reward” - the greatest thing about the money its raised is that it means I have work to do to fulfill the print rewards!

The ride is flattening out a bit, life’s not normal but its approaching a new normalcy, and so many great things have happened, and will happen, that I know I’ll look back sometime and be so grateful to all this because I’ll see it from a future I could never have imagined!

Peace,

John
After.sm
(September 21st 2015, first view of the site.)