Valley Fire: Out Of The Ashes
Devastation is reminder that preparation is first step in response and recovery
Lives Changed Forever
"The flames were outrunning the smoke. If someone wanted to know what the gates of hell look like, I think this is pretty close," said Bob Pratt, as he reflected on the two year anniversary of the Valley Fire. Bob and his wife Kathy are survivors.
The Valley Fire struck Lake County, California on September 12, 2015. The fierce wind-driven firestorm had an insatiable appetite for destruction. Residents had little time to react. According to Cal Fire, the Valley Fire consumed 76,067 acres, destroyed 1,958 structures and damaged 93 more.
Individuals, families and the community at-large were changed forever once the wildfire made its indelible mark. Two years later, the wildfire’s scars are still visible. Though progress has been made, it seems the whole county is under construction.
The Pratts live in the small town of Cobb, California, north of the Napa Valley wine country. The destruction of their home was complete. They lost their home, photo albums, and cherished possessions but they survived.
As with any wildfire, the damage sustained by individual homes varied. Some homes were completely destroyed. Others were left untouched and many more homes suffered a range of damage somewhere in between. No matter the final fate of a home, the evacuation process during the Valley Fire was traumatic for those impacted.
Tom and Linda Moran live in a beautiful home in Hidden Valley Lake with panoramic views. They watched the wildfire from their patio as it moved from across the valley. It traveled along the hilltop ridges and suddenly the flames were licking at nearby property lines.
"It was panic,” said Tom. “We had five minutes to get out. It was incredible.” Linda explained they “drove out with flames on both sides of the road. It was surreal.” The Moran home survived the fire with a relatively small amount of damage.
The way a community pulls together in times of need is impressive. The people of Lake County are no different. The Moran and Pratt families received tremendous support from their friends and broader community, including complete strangers. The people of Lake County have suffered together, are recovering together and have learned a lot in the process.
When asked about what they learned in all this, Bob Pratt didn’t hesitate. “Make sure whoever your insurance company is, that they do what they say they'll do the way they say they'll do it and that you can rely on them,” Bob, a State Farm policyholder, shared. “Because if everything goes,” he continued, “that is where you start. So, make sure you have an insurance company that understands your needs and that you are covered.”
With two little dogs to care for, Bob’s wife Kathy chimed in to remind us that it is important not to forget your pets and their needs. Indeed, pets are members of the family. In your emergency kit, pack dog food and treats, medication and favorite toys. This will give your pet a sense of stability in a stressful situation.
Some other tips the Moran and Pratt families shared are:
- Create defensible space on your property (grass down, trees trimmed, natural fire breaks). It is a key step for the safety of your home and firefighters.
- Have a bag with key items prepared. Create an A, B, and C list to organize your priorities. Depending on the amount of time you have to evacuate, work your way down your lists.
- Take digital photos of your home and personal possessions. Keep the digital photos off site or on the cloud. Also, use a scanner to digitize your printed photos albums.
- Hold on to receipts you accumulate during evacuation and recovery. They are very important in claims process.
- When it comes to filing a homeowner’s insurance claim, the relationship you have with your agent and claim representative matters. Communication is a key to resolving any claim.
Once Lived, Never Forgotten
Not every hardship and wound resulting from the wildfire will find closure but, a lot can be fixed, rebuilt and renewed with fresh optimism for the future. As Bob searched for personal items in the ashes of his home, he did find the melted remnants of his gold wedding ring. It was right where he thought it would be.
He has since set the gold into the handle of his walking stick and moves about his daily business with confidence. Bob carries a reminder of the wildfire with him everywhere he goes. That isn’t unusual for those that experience such a life altering event. The wildfire experience becomes a part of you; you never look at your home and community the same way.