KCBS Special Report - "Out Of The Ashes"

KCBS Special Report: “Out Of The Ashes” (Part 1)

MIDDLETOWN, Lake County (KCBS) — The Valley Fire burned 118 square miles, and almost 2,000 structures, including the townhouse in Middletown where Delores Harris lived. She was lucky to get out alive.

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“The whole sky behind was all red, and you could just feel the fire,” Harris remembered.

When she returned a week later, she managed to salvage just one thing. “I had a little angel on my back patio, a concrete angel, with a little butterfly in his hand. That had been turned around, so it greeted me,” she said.

Valley Fire destruction

The welcome sign to Anderson Springs was blackened by flame. 95% of the houses there are gone. (Doug Sovern/CBS)

What used to be her apartment building now looks like a debris field, with piles of ash and rubble, red danger tape wrapped around blackened remnants of tree stumps, lonely water heaters standing in a moonscape of cars burned down to what’s left of their chassis, their hubcaps melted and warped. The cleanup has barely begun.

“It’s not the same world,” said Sandy, who lives several miles up the mountain in Loch Lomond. “It’s a very, very different world here right now. It’s hard, a lot of people like myself break down and cry just about every day, for a little while. And still, we can’t believe it happened.”

Sandy’s home is not far from where the fire started, in Cobb. It survived, but now she’s surrounded by incinerated houses and blackened forest.

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“People are still very much in shock, everywhere you go,” she said. “You see it, you feel it, we’re all connected, we all feel each other. A lot of people are hurting.”

Valley Fire destruction

Few homes spared on Cobb Mountain. (Doug Sovern/CBS)

Those people are staying with friends, or in motel rooms, dealing with federal agencies and insurance companies. But there’s an unusual sense here of acceptance, gratitude and plucky resolve to bounce back.

Rancher Jim Comstock, who’s also a county supervisor, saw eight of his family members lose their homes. The Comstock clan is going about its business, rebuilding their lives. “You wake up every day and have your checklist and go through it,” said Comstock. “The sun comes up every day and we’ve got to deal with it, and people here are ready to deal with it.”

Harris sees this tragedy as an opportunity to start anew. “Life will happen again,” she said. “You just have to clean out the deadwood.”

Part 2 – Like so many here, Harris lost both her home and her workplace.

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