KCBS Special Report: “Out Of The Ashes” (Part 2)

MIDDLETOWN, Lake County (CBS SF) — The cleanup is well underway in Lake County after last month’s devastating Valley Fire, but for many,”rebuilding” is still a theoretical concept.

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That’s because hundreds of people not only lost their homes, but also their jobs – forcing them to start over, almost from scratch.

Scott Klingenmaier’s whole life was centered on a few miles along Harbin Creek. He owned a home in Anderson Springs, and he was landscape manager at Harbin Hot Springs. Saturday afternoon, September 12th, the Valley Fire took it all away.

“We saw the thing come down the mountain, and just watched it getting closer and closer,” said Klingenmaier. “And as we’re driving out on 175 to Middletown, the whole ridge was just burning, it was crazy. It was an end of the world kind of feeling, an incredible experience. I’ll never forget it.”

Valley Fire destruction

A charred beam the last thing standing at this retail/school complex in Middletown. (Doug Sovern/CBS)

His home burned to the ground, and the Harbin retreat and workshop complex was destroyed. Klingenmaier is homeless and unemployed.

“It’s a new world now, yeah,” he said. “I feel like, once I got over the shock of it all, and slowly recovering and trying to figure out what to do next, it’s a great opportunity for a new beginning in many ways.”

Klingenmaier is staying with a friend in Healdsburg while he works with his insurance company and FEMA, trying to focus on what comes next.

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“It’s been a pain in the ass, just having to deal with it,” he chuckles. “But we have what we have before us, so you gotta do what you gotta do in life.”

Klingenmaier is one of more than 200 people who worked at Harbin and also lost their homes.

“There is a deep sense of grief with the Harbin people,” said Harbin employee Delores Harris, who also lost her home. “Deep, deep, deep grief. Because it wasn’t just a place to work. It was a community and a place that you loved the people that you worked with, and there was a spiritual component.”

Valley Fire destruction

One of many burned out cars in Middletown. (Doug Sovern/CBS)

Harbin Hot Springs plans to rebuild, but that could take a year or more. Harris is determined to stay, if she can. “Getting a new job, finding a new place, it’s kind of mind-boggling when you’ve been somewhere 15 years,” said Harris.

Klingenmaier thinks maybe Mother Nature sent the whole valley a message – that it was time to start over. “I feel like it’s going to recover and bounce back,” he said, “and be better than before in some ways.”

Harris agrees. “The land is pretty torched, but land is resilient. Things will grow back.”

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Part 3 – The struggle to recover as another potential disaster looms