KCBS Special Report: “Out Of The Ashes” (Part 3)

MIDDLETOWN, Lake County (CBS SF) — Victims of the destructive Valley Fire are stuggling to recover the best they can even as another potential disaster looms with the onset of El Niño.

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Picking up and getting on with the recovery process after the third most destructive fire in California history isn’t easy, even almost six weeks later.

“You think you’re getting a little bit stronger, and getting through it, and then all of a sudden, it just comes. Another wave hits, and you’re crying again, and you’re like ‘Oh my God,'” says Sandy, who lives in the tiny village of Loch Lomond.

“There’s the shock, there’s the grief,” says rancher Jim Comstock, who is a Lake County Supervisor. “And there’s some anger. Some people are upset that things aren’t happening faster.”

Valley Fire destruction

Occasionally, something of beauty in the rubble. (Doug Sovern/CBS)

Valley Fire destruction

Remnants of a townhouse complex in Middletown. (Doug Sovern/CBS)

Comstock, whose extended family lost eight of the almost 1,300 homes destroyed by the fire, saved their lives, and his own home, by spending the night in an irrigated field, and using a homemade fire engine to fight off the flames. Now he’s focused on removing blackened trees without worsening the erosion and slides, that the winter rains are sure to bring.

“Are there going to be some problems with it? Yes,” he says. “Will we able to totally prevent it? No. We couldn’t prevent this,” he says, gesturing to the destruction in downtown Middletown. “But you deal with it.”

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Fellow County Supervisor Rob Brown says the impact of El Niño is his constituents’ number one concern right now, so the county is working with CalFire to prevent flooding and slides in the fire zone:.

“They’re preparing, as we all are,” Brown says. “Preparing for a worst-case scenario and trying to make sure it’s kept to a minimum.”

Valley Fire destruction

Destruction from the Valley Fire. The forest could take years to recover. (Doug Sovern/CBS)

Valley Fire destruction

Miles of blackened mountainside between Middletown & Cobb.(Doug Sovern/CBS)

In the mountains between Anderson Springs and Cobb, there is mile after mile of blackened forest, denuded hillsides stripped bare by the vast and ferocious fire. People like Delores Harris and Scott Klingenmaier lost their homes to the flames, but instead of the complaints about slow government assistance or red tape that you often hear after calamities like this, the residue of this fire seems to be an extraordinary sense of common purpose, and an almost unanimous determination to rebuild this ravaged community together.

“These tragedies can draw people closer together, and draw out the best in people,” sas Klingenmaier. “I feel like a lot of goodness and generosity has been drawn out of people.”

Harris agrees, saying the fire “gave me a deep faith in humanity, a real deep faith in the goodness of people.”

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Comstock is embracing the rebuilding process. “We get up in the morning and put our pants on and go to work. That’s what we’re doing.”