This was the fourth year and worse drought in state history. It was hot. The winds were shifting upwards of 40 mph in places and the valleys and mountain slopes were thick with brush and tall trees.
It was September 12 around 4 pm.
I went up behind the house and saw a huge cloud of black grey smoke billowing several thousand feet above the west side of Boggs Mountain. The front of the blaze a mere 3 miles away on the other side of the mountain raging up out of Cobb Valley. A DC 9 along with the other planes was also circling overhead every few minutes.
I got a frantic call from Christopher whose house was up the side of Boggs directly in the path. He wanted me to come help him get his cats out. I headed over immediately but the roads were already blocked. I got hold of him an hour or so later and his house was already gone.
By 6 pm the police car with loud speaker came down the road "mandatory evacuation".
Micheal and I started running around deciding what to take. What we could throw in the car and get by with for a spell. Cars and horse trailers were steadily going down the usually quiet country road. The atmosphere was thick with the potential for disaster.
Micheal took off, I grabbed my cat Stu Deans and took off too. We met up at the junction of Hwy 29 in Lower Lake. This rural intersection with one light usually entertains half dozen cars in all directions. This evening found it backed up with hundreds of vehicles choking the road as thousands poured out of Middletown and the Cobb Mtn. area.. Cops and sirens everywhere.
Stu Deans got under the front seat of the van. Micheal called the friends in Morgan Valley who had a farm with accomodations for several people.
Dandelion Farms was the name of the place. Way out in the sticks. No cell reception, limited internet , no wifi but very quiet. Across the road was Grizzly Peak (3,000') a totally brush coated mountain not worth the effort. It's an easy walk up now if you don't mind moving between the chard branches and getting dirty with ash! The Stolleys were very lucky. In June they had survived the "Rocky Fire" which devoured the surrounding terrain of mostly mountain brush in every direction.
Loren and Candace brought us up to a place for several to stay. I camped in the van. We were on a ridgeline at elevation and as I went to turn in for the night I could see a red glow on the horizon 15 miles south in Middletown and Big Canyon as the 3rd worse fire in California history had it's capricious way with everything in it path. Blazing rapidly though trees and steep slopes only to stop and devour a dwelling with intense relish leaving low piles of white twisted metal, ash and rubble defining the foundation of what a few hours before stood for someones life.
A friend who stayed in the area to fight the fire said it raced along one ridgeline crowning the trees faster than a pick-up truck!
All we could do was pray the house was spared, that we dodged a bullet and could go back home soon.
2 weeks at Dandelion Farms
Grizzly Peak, (on horizon) chard and largely barren like the hill in front from the Rocky Fire months earlier.
More people arrived in the morning having been evacuated at 4 am. Most lived on Shenandoah Circle at the top of a hill above Seigler Valley where the fire swept over leaving a landscape of black grey and brown peppered with piles of white which were the houses. Boggs Mountain (3,740') 5 miles long, totally forested now appears totally burnt out on all sides. Huge swaths of the east and south sides of Cobb Mtn. were burnt out all the way to the top.
The only good news that day was our house and the small neighborhood of a few acres was spared!
Quite a relief to be so lucky. Later I saw houses untouched next to utter devastation.
Reports came in. All roads were blocked. Total evac of area for indefinite period.
!0 miles out we settled in for what would be 2 weeks. The road to Clearlake was open to the right at Lower Lake so we could get to stores. Walmart had disaster relief booths giving away food and clothes etc. which was pretty cool. Got use to the slow rhythm of country life helping Loren with chores from time to time.
Stu Deans was not at home here. He stayed out until 2 am one night. The area had larger predators like big cats and coyotes. Then one night he got in a brief scuffle with the local cat and vanished into the woods for the night. Then 4 more nights. I went calling him with flashlight every night but nothing. He was a smart cookie who always knew where he lived. A very cool customer and best friend. I didn't feel our time was through. He's young and strong. Everybody at the farm knew him and liked him. When I had to leave it was great to be back to the comforts of home but seeing Stu's empty bowl saddened me.
Shenandoah Hill (left) where the fire raged over the homes of many friends
We lived in the thick of it. A blessing to have a home to go back to when this place could have very easily joined the ranks of 1200 others including those of many friends burnt to the ground.
It's not a pretty place around here now and won't be for many years. Boggs Mountain and State Forest is absolutely devastated on all sides and closed for the foreseeable future. Harbin Hot Springs is no more. Big chunks of Middletown and Collayomi Valley liberally fried on all sides.
I never saw any of the news coverage for weeks and we just got internet yesterday. I was very impressed at the ferocity of the thing as a reporter covered it in then real time. Frightening power!
Seems all my friends have insurance plans and life here goes on in the burnt but still vibrant mountain landscape. It's nice to be able to look out the window and still see green trees.
So I get a call from Max! He was still at the farm and was pulling for Stu Deans. He'd call me if he showed up. It was just that. Stu was galavanting the countryside for 12 days. He'd shedd a few pounds but no worse for the wear and very hungry!
I drove out before sunrise and retrieved the bugger. He is very happy to be home, has a huge appetite and very affectionate. Normally not a very vocal cat, he was carrying on at length with long meeowws all day when we got back home telling us about his adventures.
You wouldn't know it today looking out the window on this beautiful fall afternoon that this was a National Disaster zone covered by the President getting Fema and Red Cross relief. But only a few hundred yards down this road are very really reminders of the destructive force of nature and it's utter disregard for what we hold precious. In all 76,000 acres burned.
We didn't lose our home here but even friends who did feel like something good will come out of this. Personally I'm delighted to have internet again and able to write this report.
You Tube clips of the Valley FireValley Fire