Officials have ordered the evacuation of Middletown, California as a fast moving wildfire moved through the area in Northern California.
Imagine a wildfire moving so fast, encroaching so quickly on your community, that there isn’t enough time to put on your shoes before you flee.
For one small town north of San Francisco and west of Sacramento, that horrific thought was a reality over the weekend. According to the New York Times, Middletown was evacuated on Saturday, and residents didn’t have much time to escape the fast-moving blaze.
“It looked like hell everywhere,” Maddie Ross, a student at Santa Rosa Junior College who fled with her grandparents from their Hidden Valley Lake home, told the New York Times. “It was terrifying, truly terrifying. I’ve never been in a situation like that. We all felt like the world was coming to an end.”
Three massive wildfires are burning in central and northern California:
- Valley Fire: 61,000 acres burned; at least 400 structures destroyed; 5-percent contained; 1 killed
- Butte Fire: 71,000 acres burned; 6,400 structures threatened; 30-percent contained
- Rough Fire: 138,000 acres burned, 40-percent contained
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Lake and Napa counties due to the effects of the fire.
Hot, dry weather will give way to a sharp drop in temperatures across California starting Monday, bringing chances for welcomed rain showers but also a shift in wind directions for many areas.
The Valley Fire in Lake County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, exploded to 50,000 acres in less than 24 hours this weekend, according to CAL Fire.
In addition to the 400 single-family homes lost to the fire, officials also counted two apartment complexes and 10 businesses destroyed by the flames, department spokeswoman Lynn Valentine said.
The fire broke out Saturday afternoon, charring nearly 40 square miles in several hours and chasing thousands of people from their homes.
Four firefighters suffered second-degree burns during the initial attack on the Valley Fire. They were hospitalized in stable condition, The Associated Press reported.
Current Fire Weather Conditions
“I’m looking in all directions, and all I see is fire,” Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman told The Press Democrat. “This is unreal. … This thing just blew up on us.”
The small Middletown community suffered extensive damage and at least one school – Middletown Christian School – has been claimed by the flames, KGO-TV reported.
“The sound of the fire was that of a jet plane in flight. You could see fire advancing. It was incredible. We weren’t evacuating carefully and cautiously, we were fleeing,” Bob Rider, an evacuee, told KGO-TV. Rider, his wife, three young sons and dog escaped from their home in Hidden Valley Lake.
Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for the communities of Cobb, Seigler Canyon, Loch Lomond, Middletown and Hidden Valley Lakes, Cal Fire said. Evacuations were also ordered for several roads in the area and evacuation centers have been set up at the Kelseyville Presbyterian Church, Kelsyville High School, the Calistoga Fair Grounds, and Red Cross.
Cal Fire is reporting more than 5,000 homes are without power due to the blaze. A Facebook page has been launched to help pet owners reunite with their lost animals.
Meanwhile, the Butte fire has burned more than 71,000 acres to the southeast of Sacramento.
Authorities say the wildfire started on Wednesday and has destroyed 81 homes in California’s Gold Country.
Three-Day Forecast Highs
Officials reported more progress in battling the fire, saying it was 30-percent contained Monday morning despite a thick layer of smoke that grounded air tankers and helicopters from flying all day Saturday.
California’s emergency chief claims that this summer’s firesare the most volatile he has seen in 30 years of emergency response work, according to the Sacramento Bee.
“I lost my business — it’s all burned up — my shop, my house, 28 years of living,” said Joe Thomas, who lives near the community of Mountain Ranch. “I got to start all over. It’s depressing.”
Thomas, who runs a tractor dealership and repair business, said he and his wife grabbed papers, his work computer, photos and their four dogs. But they left a goat, five ducks, six rabbits and more than 30 chickens behind.
“I turned the pens open and turned them loose. I just couldn’t gather them up,” he said. “All we want to do is go home. It’s miserable.”
In addition to the 81 homes destroyed, a damage-assessment team found that the fire burned 51 outbuildings and was threatening another 6,400.
The Rough Fire continued to expand in the foothills east of Fresno Sunday.
The fire, which was started by a lightning strike on July 31, had scorched more than 138,000 acres as of Monday morning and was 40-percent contained.
The Sacramento Bee reports that it is the largest active fire in the state and it has swept through areas containing several ancient sequoia trees, including the General Grant tree and the Boole Tree, which are the second and sixth largest in the world, respectively. Both are reported to be safe.
Mandatory evacuations in Fresno County were expanded Saturday to include an area along Hopewell Road, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. Mandatory evacuations are also in effect for parts of Kings Canyon National Park.
Nearly 3,000 firefighters are involved, one of which has been injured.
There are no reports of any homes destroyed in the Rough Fire.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.