Recovery on Cobb Mountain: 'I can't believe it's really our lives'
Two years after the Valley Fire incinerated nearly everything they owned, the Leonard family’s rebuilt home on their decimated property on Cobb Mountain is almost finished.
But even as workers prepared to install tile and begin painting this week, David and Cindy Leonard and their daughter, Maya, are once again looking for an escape route from the flames of wildfires.
The Leonards, featured in a series of Bee stories, “Recovery on Cobb Mountain,” began packing Wednesday morning after the Lake County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory evacuation notice for people in the Middletown area as the Tubbs Fire approached.
“We are not in the midst of chaos like we were last time,” said David Leonard, principal of Cobb Mountain Elementary School, which canceled classes Wednesday. “But getting the evacuation alert put our minds in a different place. It’s concerning.”
The Tubbs Fire, which erupted in Sonoma County on Sunday, pushed north overnight, prompting the Lake County advisory. The advisory is, for now, not mandatory but “is strongly recommended” for people in Middletown, about 9 miles south of Cobb. The Sheriff’s Department urged residents to “gather their medications, pets and important papers,” and be prepared to leave on short notice.
The Leonards were taking no chances on Wednesday, packing clothing and other items in the RV where they have been living as their new home takes shape just a few yards in the distance. They were plotting possible escape routes, and making phone calls to friends who might be able to shelter them. They were looking for a box to transport Maya’s pet chickens if officials issue a mandatory evacuation order.
The family had discussed moving into their new home in December, and remain hopeful, David Leonard said. He noted that the new home was built with fire resistant materials, and that many of the trees that crowded the property are gone. Still, he said, his mind has drifted to the possibility that they could lose what they have rebuilt.
The Leonards lost sleep this week in their trailer as winds lashed the structure and acorns and pine cones rained down on its metal roof. They were saddened and riveted by video and read stories about the swath of misery from multiple fires in nearby counties.
“Such vast destruction,” David Leonard said. “It tears me apart to see it.”
The Leonards managed to save a few things as they escaped the Valley Fire in September 2015, including some photos and musical instruments. Most of the items are in storage in Middletown.
“Part of me wants to go get them, but really the most important thing is the three of us,” David Leonard said. “So long as we’re safe, that’s the most important thing. You can’t replace people.”