Environment & Science

With Valley Fire nearly contained, residents try to move on

File: A burnt pelican statue stands beside a fire destroyed house after the Valley Fire swept through the town of Middletown, California.
File: A burnt pelican statue stands beside a fire destroyed house after the Valley Fire swept through the town of Middletown, California.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Although the Valley Fire has not been fully put out, the residents whose homes are no longer in flames face the difficult task of going back to what's left. The fire has killed four and destroyed thousands of structures.

"Most of the time, they don't mind watching us kick down their front door and squirt 1,000 gallons of water all over their furniture and cut a big  giant hole in their roof if we can save most of the house," Joe Fletcher, fire captain with Cal Fire, told KPCC.  "Not everybody is enthused about it — you have to expect that too."

While crews continue to battle the fire, Fletcher's job is to help residents return back to normal. Fletcher works at an information center where people call for questions they have once they return to their homes. He points people to resources for things like what to do when they find brush on their homes, need damaged trees removed from their property or when they can't find their animals. 

"It's very unusual circumstances for people — they see things happen that they would not see under normal circumstances," Fletcher said. "We put a lot of effort into protecting people's lives and property, and anytime anyone is hurt or property is damaged, we take each one of those personally." 

Fletcher also helps those who ask questions when he drives around through communities. Some residents stop him to show their gratitude.

"Most of the flagging downs are just people saying thanks," he said. "It feels good I guess, but that's what I said I would do — I would reach out and help my neighbors."

Moving on from the tragic fire were also children in Lake County's Middletown, who went back to school Monday for the first time since the fire began. 

"It was a relief to have all of the kids come back, and that was the sweet part. The bitter part was that so many of the kids have lost their homes, and you could see it written all over their faces," Middletown Unified School District Superintendent Catherine Stone told KPCC. "But it was wonderful seeing their friends supporting them through it."

Stone said that classes will now begin later in the morning to accommodate children who have had to move after their homes were destroyed.