On Tuesday, I went to check out the Valley fire: I traveled to one of the two Red Cross evacuation centers at the Napa County fairground, and to the town of Middletown. Both were remarkable scenes.
Red Cross Evacuation Center at the Napa County Fairground
Having just finished county fair season, and having gone to the Yolo County fair myself in late August, it was a strange and unsettling juxtaposition to see the fairground lined with cars and packed with people, just like on fair day, but instead of happy, smiling families I was met with worn, somber faces. Many looked as though trying to make the best of it--like an unscheduled family camping trip, but it is hard to escape the signs of disaster: piles of donated clothing yet to be sorted, police officers on patrol to "keep the peace", hastily written notices informing residents of a community meeting, and general hodge-podgery. Dogs and cats were everywhere. Port-a-potties lined the edges of the tent and RV camps, with loads of supplies being hauled around through the grounds on trucks.
Insurance companies had booths set up ready to receive claims, as did all the telecoms, offering free wifi, charging stations, and phone banks. Local food trucks were also present, offering free meals. Signs, primarily handwritten, covered the walls near the media and volunteer sign-in, attempting to connect families, friends, and lost or found pets to owners.
BASE OF OPERATIONS
Middletown was next, traveling north on 29. My first stop was a completely burned down home right off the highway, a remarkable sight: white, ashen trees encircling a pile of rubble. I stayed a while, taking it in. What do you photograph? So hot were the flames, that nothing was really left but a pile of ash, and a circle of white, powdery trees where the home once stood. Looking more closely, you could see little bits of the lives that lived there: shattered coffee mugs, a toaster, paint cans piled in the burned-out shed.
Then I moved on down the road, and drove straight through town to get a feel for the damage, and I was, to put it mildly, surprised by how severe the damage was. Areas throughout town still smoldered. PG&E had set up a massive staging area off of 29 in a vacant field to deal with the power lines, which lay scattered throughout town. On the corner of 29 and Butts Canyon Road, a graveyard stood just barely escaping the flames; it's western edge was blackened, a few headstones black and cracked.
The most outwardly remarkable, and most aired by the media the past couple days, was a neighborhood just off the main drag: Wardlaw, Jefferson, Lincoln, Young, and Jackson streets. It was absolutely flattened, and not simply flattened, but melted. So little was left of the homes that once stood there that I, having never been to Middletown before, assumed they must have been small structures. It wasn't until I looked the neighborhood up on Google street view the following day that I realized it wasn't the homes, it was the heat of the fire that accounted for the relatively small piles of rubble: the fire had turned everything, everything, to ash. All that really survived were solid metal structures and clay: pots, lawn ornaments, bricks, car shells, washers and dryers...
One spot of sunshine was the Middletown Animal Hospital, spared by the wildfire, was able to be put to use caring for lost and injured animals found in the area. Volunteer vet meds from all over, including UC Davis, were there helping. Donations were also coming in regularly from farmers and ranchers.
Residential Fire Damage
Along the Highway
Middletown Animal Hospital
Volunteer and Donate: American Red Cross
If you see a damage photo that looks suspiciously like your home, please feel free to contact me in the comments or on my contact page and I will, to the best of my ability, try to recount the photo's location.
9/26/2015 07:29:24 am
The pictures amazing and very telling. I have two friends, one very close friend I went to high school with that lost their homes and all of their personal belongings. The other friend had no renter/content insurance and has lost all their personal belongings. 20 min. after they evacuated, the home burned. You are right, this is a very tragic circumstance. The pics you took are amazing. I know you will thrive doing photo journalism. You are a good writer. I wish you the best.
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