Valley fire consumes 400 homes, 50,000 acres

Fire crews ran night operations and controlled burnings to contain the Butte Fire in Sheep Ranch, on Sept. 12 2015. The Butte Fire started Wednesday east of the Amador County town of Jackson and has burned nearly 65,000 acres and is forcing evacuations in the dry hills east of Highway 49.
Fire crews ran night operations and controlled burnings to contain the Butte Fire in Sheep Ranch, on Sept. 12 2015. The Butte Fire started Wednesday east of the Amador County town of Jackson and has burned nearly 65,000 acres and is forcing evacuations in the dry hills east of Highway 49.

UPDATE 10:30 p.m.

Cosumnes Fire Department spokeswoman Julie Rider reports that the Butte fire in Amador and Calaveras counties has destroyed 135 residences and 79 outbuildings. Fire officials have also allowed some area residences back into their homes.

UPDATE 8:50 p.m.

The ravenous Valley fire in Lake County has consumed 400 houses and 20 commercial buildings in the areas of Boggs Mountain, Hidden Valley Lake and Middletown, Cal Fire officials just reported.

UPDATE 2:50 p.m.

Cal Fire director Ken Pimlott visited Sunday with three firefighters being treated at UC Davis’ Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center and the UC Davis Medical Center for burns suffered in the Valley fire in Lake County. A Cal Fire captain was also being treated for burns from the fire.

“All of them are in great spirits,” Pimlott said. “To be honest with you, they just want to get back out and into the fight. But there are probably going to be weeks of recovery.”

Pimlott said the firefighters, who suffered burns to their hands and faces, are receiving treatments to prevent infection and will undergo painful cleaning procedures. He said all are expected to recover from their wounds, which include second-degree burns, but may require physical therapy to regain full mobility.

UPDATE 2:10 p.m.

Cal Fire now estimates the Valley fire in Lake County has destroyed “hundreds of structures,” although spokesman Daniel Berlant said, “crews have not had a chance to do a full damage assessment.”

UPDATE 12:50 p.m.

The governor’s emergency services chief is calling this summer’s fires the most volatile he has seen in his 30 years of emergency response work, saying the cause is mainly dry conditions from the four-year drought.

“The bushes, the trees have absolutely no moisture in them, and the humidities are so low that we are seeing these ‘fire starts’ just erupt into conflagrations,” Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said Sunday after a briefing with fire and emergency officials in Calaveras County, scene of the massive Butte fire that has burned more than 80 homes.

“The fires are spreading faster than I have seen in my 30 years,” he said.

The Butte fire and the Valley fire in Lake County, in particular, he said, “got into people’s lives very, very fast. It is critical our citizens understand for their security that they not only have to clear the property around their homes, but they have to be prepared to evacuate fast.”

Ghilarducci said state fire and emergency services operations are doing well, but are stretched and that California has asked for firefighting help from Nevada and Oregon, and has reached out also to Utah, Colorado and Washington states. Nevada already has sent fire crews and aircraft, he said.

State fire officials also rely heavily on local fire districts to provide support, typically sending double what Cal Fire sends to fire scenes, Ghilarducci said. “If we didn’t have that, we’d be in trouble.”

State OES officials are spending Sunday talking with fire and local officials to determine what sort of help the state can provide, aside from fighting fires. That includes housing for what Ghilarducci expects will be a lot of people without homes. The Valley fire in particular, he said, could prove to be devastating to many people.

“We are going to be amazed at the number of structures lost there,” he said. “This is a large humanitarian impact there. There are people who are going to be homeless. We have to makes sure we address those issues with medium and longer term sheltering.”

UPDATE 11:10 a.m.

At least two dozen homes and an apartment complex have burned to the ground in Middletown, where the Valley fire in Lake County struck Saturday night, but a number of significant structures appear to have escaped damage. The Middletown Bible Church, the high school and the Chevron station along the main drag all appear intact, and active firefighting measures inside the town have ceased.

Visibility remains extremely limited, with heavy smoke still covering the area, and it appears that the most damage was in outlying areas despite media reports that most of the town of 1,300 residents was destroyed.

Trees and power lines have fallen onto some streets, and a light sprinkling of rain was hitting the area this morning.

UPDATE 10:50 a.m.

Cal Fire announced new mandatory evacuations for the Valley fire. Daniel Berlant, agency spokesman, said on Twitter that Point Lakeview to Soda Bay (Hwy 281) is now under a mandatory evacuation.

UPDATE 10:25 - 10:35 a.m.

Some of the thousands of people evacuated from the Butte fire have flocked to shelter at the Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort.

“We’ve turned the hotel into an evacuation center,” said Rich Hoffman, CEO of the Jackson Rancheria.

In addition to using the hotel space, cots have been brought into the conference space.

The RV park is filled up and some people with animals are sleeping in the parking lot with them, Hoffman said.

“We are just fortunate to have this facility,” he said.

He said the tribe has brought in toys and video game consoles to give the kids something to do.

The casino is still open but much of the resources have been diverted for the new mission, Hoffman said.

Rough fire

The Rough fire in the mountains east of Fresno continues to be the largest active fire in the state with 130,000 acres burned.

That fire has swept through areas that contain several ancient and iconic sequoia trees, including the General Grant tree, second largest in the world, and the Boole Tree, sixth largest in the world.

Both trees, however, are reported safe.

“They are all fine,” fire spokesman Jim Schwarber said Sunday morning. “There have been a lot of efforts preparing those areas, removing fuels around them. We had sprinklers set up, so there wouldn’t be serious threat.”

The Chicago Stump, part of a large sequoia cut down more than a century ago, was wrapped in foil for protection, Schwarber said.

The fire, centered in Kings Canyon east of Fresno, was reported 31 percent contained Sunday morning. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are involved.

The lightning-caused fire has been burning since July 31. Fire spokesman Jim Schwarber said the fire – like the Butte and Valley fires - has been spreading faster than computer modeling forecasts projected.

“The country is bone dry, and we’ve had triple-digit hot weather,” Schwarber said. “We have dry, dead super-flammable fuel.”

One firefighter has been injured. An estimated 3,500 people have been evacuated from their homes, but only two buildings are reported destroyed.

UPDATE 9:50 a.m.

Cal Fire’s tally of 86 homes and 51 outbuildings destroyed so far by the Butte fire in Amador and Calaveras counties is expected to grow later Sunday as inspection teams continue their assessments of what damage has been wrought by the 65,000-acre blaze.

“We are going to see that number grow probably this evening,” Cal Fire spokesman Mike Mohler said Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, firefighters are hoping for a break from the heavy smoke layer that grounded air tankers and helicopters over the fire Saturday.

Light rain sprinkles dampened the area early Sunday, and although Mohler said “it’s not going to be enough moisture to settle down the fire,” the sun was becoming visible this morning and air units may be flying again by 11 a.m.

“Now we have other fires in this region,” he said. “We need to get these people back in their homes and we need to start releasing equipment as soon as possible.”

UPDATE 9:30 a.m.

About 100 firefighters from the Sacramento region have been deployed to three major fires burning in California, including strike teams sent Saturday night to assist in the rapidly growing Valley fire in Lake County.

Sacramento Fire Department spokesman Roberto Padilla said strike teams comprised of firefighters from Sacramento, Folsom, Metro Fire, West Sacramento and Cosumnes fire have been deployed to the Valley fire, as well as the Butte fire burning in Amador and Calaveras counties and the Rough fire burning east of Fresno.

The latest deployment came Saturday night with units dispatched to Lake County “lights and sirens all the way out there at 9:30,” Padilla said.

Those firefighters are headed toward the Hidden Valley Lake area to provide structure protection, although Padilla noted they may be diverted if needed elsewhere.

“These are extreme conditions, and for us locally these are literally our neighbors,” Padilla said.

Numerous law enforcement officers from regional departments also have been dispatched to provide traffic support and protection of neighborhoods that have been evacuated. One suspected looting incident in San Andreas on Saturday night resulted in one suspect being detained.

UPDATE 9:17 a.m.

Fire officials report “thousands” of Calaveras and Amador counties residents have packed seven evacuation shelters in the two counties this weekend as the four-day-old Butte fire continued its course Sunday morning, sweeping through grassy hills.

Officials ordered mandatory evacuations Saturday evening on the fringes of Angels Camp.

“The (centers) are swelling,” Butte fire public information officer Julie Rider said.

There had been no reports of serious injuries or deaths yet as a result of the fire. But Rider said a scout team was in the field Sunday identifying and checking destroyed buildings.

The official Butte County count from Saturday night stands at 81 homes destroyed and 51 outbuildings, but those numbers are expected to rise.

UPDATE 9 a.m.

The Harbin Hot Springs Health Spa in Middletown reported evacuating all guests Saturday night but the fate of its buildings remained uncertain. A posting on the spa’s Facebook page noted that “all residents and guests were evacuated by mid-afternoon, with the Valley fire moving down from Cobb into our valley.”

“At this point, reports of damage to our center are rumor, as everyone has left the area. However, the photos and videos from Middletown paint a very grim picture for our community. Send prayers.”

UPDATE 8:56 a.m.

State fire officials say they expect another tough day ahead, fighting fires on numerous fronts, including the Valley fire in Lake County, the Butte fire in Calaveras County and a dozen other wildland fires statewide.

They say they are hoping for a bit of a reprieve from the weather. Residents in the Lake County fire area reported a few raindrops Sunday morning.

“On both fires we are expecting cooler temperatures today, which will be nice,” CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. “But we had cooler temperatures yesterday too, and the fires grew at explosive rates.

“We’re expecting extreme fire behavior today.”

UPDATE 8:45 a.m.

The four firefighters injured during the early stages of the Valley fire fight Saturday afternoon remain the only reported serious injuries in that fire and at the Butte fire in Calaveras County as of Sunday morning, fire officials said.

The four were in stable condition at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center in Sacramento, where they were airlifted Saturday.

The Lake County-based firefighting group had been dropped into the fire zone near the community of Cobb by helicopter to build containment lines when the incident occurred, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

“We don’t have the circumstances yet,” he said. “We will activate an accident review team, but with so much immediate threat, fighting the fire has to be our priority right now.”

UPDATE 8:16 a.m.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency Sunday for Lake and Napa counties because of the massive Valley Fire that has scorched 40,000 acres and destroyed an unknown number of homes since it erupted Saturday.

The proclamation follows an earlier one the governor made for the Butte fire, which has burned 65,000 acres in Amador and Calaveras counties since Wednesday.

Earlier, the state Office of Emergency Services announced that it obtained a Fire Management Assistance Grant overnight from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Lake and Napa counties that allows agencies fighting the blaze to recover costs from the fire.


Firefighters gained significant ground on the Butte fire burning in Amador and Calaveras counties overnight, reporting the massive blaze that destroyed at least 86 homes is 20 percent contained.

But the Valley fire that started in Lake County Saturday afternoon as a small vegetation blaze mushroomed into a 40,000 acre monster with no containment.

The Valley fire, which resulted in burns to four Cal Fire firefighters Saturday, is burning southeast from Cobb toward Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake, Cal Fire reported Sunday morning.

“There have been an unconfirmed number of structures destroyed,” Cal Fire said. “There are over 5,000 (residences) without power.

Four firefighters on a helicopter crew were burned Saturday and transported to UC Davis Medical Center, where they were in stable condition Saturday evening with second degree burns.

The fire is now being attacked by 1,000 firefighters, 125 engines, four air tankers and 16 bulldozers.

The cause of both massive fires –which have scorched more than 164 square miles –remains under investigation.

Residents fleeing the Valley fire are being advised to seek shelter at the Kelseyville Presbyterian Church in Kelseyville and the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga.

Evacuation centers for the Butte fire include the Jackson Rancheria Hotel, the Jackson Jenny Lind Veterans Hall at 189 Pine St. in Valley Springs and the Good Samaritan Church in Valley Springs.

Peter Hecht contributed to this report.

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam

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