(EnviroNews California) — Cobb, California — The devastation is heart-wrenching — the destruction, jaw-dropping. These were the emotions I was experiencing as local EnviroNews California rolled through the rubbled, smoldering, evacuation zone inside Northern California’s raging “Valley Fire.”
Seasoned veteran firefighters from Cal Fire, who’ve been fighting fires all over the state for years, told us they had “never seen anything like” the utter devastation handed down to the now reeling communities here in these quiet, burrowed-in, mountain towns.
One 72-year-old woman is confirmed dead, and many more are still missing — exactly how many more is not known at this time, but more fatalities are expected to be reported in the coming days. [Editor’s Note: As of Sept. 22, 2015, three people are confirmed dead with several other still reported missing.]
The Valley Fire, two days after erupting, is only 15 percent contained, and is already the most destructive fire California has seen in at least 30 years — and it’s far from over yet. Having now crossed into neighboring Napa and Sonoma Counties, this beast of a blaze has an additional 9,000 homes in its path.
The problem here around Cobb: they were nestled into a pine tinderbox — starved of H2O for the past several years in California’s lingering, record-breaking, drawn-out drought. If ever a place could qualify as a poster child of climate fires, Cobb California could surely be amongst the finalists — if not claim the prize.
An erie feeling wraps around you as you cross through the guarded evacuation zone boarders and head toward the communities in and around Cobb Mountain — neighborhoods still smoldering and ablaze.
Power-lines were down everywhere — the poles that once held them up still smoking or on fire. Downed electrical transformers and exploded propane tanks littered the landscape. Wrecked cars lined the sides of the roads from the evacuation frenzy — now burnt to a crisp with tires melted off by the fire when it ripped through Middletown — jumping over Highway 29 and demolishing structures and foliage on both sides. Businesses like Havy’s Mexican restaurant in Hidden Valley Lake, along with houses, barns and other structures lay in ruin — some partially burnt — many totally incinerated.
When we were making our way to the first CHP-guarded perimeter we stopped at a high viewpoint on Highway 175. A middle-aged woman with her partner and another older male family member approached us, and told us they had a house on Cobb. When I asked if she knew yet whether their home had made it through the deadly blaze she tearfully stated, “Everything’s gone. There’s nothing left.” She informed us a friend had defied the evacuation order and made his way to their neighborhood via back-cuts on a dirt-bike. In tears, she pulled out her iphone and showed us the picture he had taken. The fire had burned so hot that few visible vestiges of anything resembling a home remained. The older man interjected, “on Saturday night, it was run for your life on Cobb Mountain.” The woman, still stunned with sadness in recollecting her horrifying tale, told us they did have one thing to be grateful for though, after hearing her 24 year-old son had scarcely escaped with his life after driving through a “wall of flames” when frantic neighbors came and rescued him — waking him from sleep at around 3 in the morning after the fire first broke.
Anderson Springs Road was one of the hardest hit areas, where a stretch of homes was virtually vaporized in a matter of minutes by the extremely hot-burning and fast-moving fire. A network news cameraman who was able to walk back in there with a reporter described a stupefying scene where they could literally “smell burnt flesh” wafting on the air.
RESIDENTS FLEE FOR THEIR LIVES THROUGH WALLS OF FLAMES ON ANDERSON SPRINGS ROAD
HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE FAMILY EVACUATES WITH EVERYTHING, INCLUDING MANY HOMES, ABLAZE AROUND THEM
Local residents, spiritualists, and ordinary recreation-seekers the world over (myself included), have been feeling downright depressed over the loss of Harbin Hot Springs — considered by countless people to be one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating resorts on planet earth. Harbin alone had between 100-150 full-time live-in residents — people all made homeless in essence, by a monstrous display from Mother Nature that wreaked havoc on this once awe-inspiring, magical and healing place — without discernment or regard — reducing it to rubble in the blink of an eye. Harbin was also one of the county’s largest employers, in the otherwise economically tedious terrain offered by Lake County — a county that consistently ranks in the top five poorest in the state.
My heart is very heavy today. #harbinhotsprings, the most magical, healing, loving place in the world, has burned down. I miss you, Harbin!
— Julie Anderson (@julterand) September 14, 2015
As of this morning, 585 homes are confirmed to have been destroyed in Lake County with the status on many others still unknown. [Editor’s note: As of Sept. 22, the number of destroyed homes sits at over 1300] As distraught families huddle for comfort in nearby shelters, one is left to wonder how many of these poor people will be able to return and rebuild when the ash settles? And how many of them will have to move on and relocate somewhere else altogether?
Feeling the pain of the residents here, and contemplating these questions brings to mind a documentary titled “Climate Refugees” — a film that analyzes global warming data and graphically displays simulations showcasing where and how groups of people will be displaced when the rapidly unfolding climate debacle starts spiraling out of control. At this point, it remains to be seen if some of the victims from the ferocious Valley Fire, and other similar California climate fires, will end up representing the United States’ first, and very real, “climate refugees.”
FILM AND ARTICLE CREDITS
- Emerson Urry - Journalist, Author