California wildfires out of control

Lee Romney, Paige St. John and Bettina Boxall
Los Angeles Times

Middletown, Calif. — A fire racing through Lake and Napa counties has destroyed hundreds of homes and other structures, California fire officials said Sunday.

The blaze, called the Valley fire, broke out Saturday and rapidly expanded beyond all control, putting a strain on fire-fighting efforts that already were stretched thin across the state.

The conflagration prompted an immediate declaration of emergency from Gov. Jerry Brown, allowing the state to mobilize various resources, including the California Guard, to help.

Authorities have issued mandatory evacuation orders for the communities of Cobb, Seigler Canyon, Loch Lomond, Middletown and Hidden Valley Lakes. And they’ve also urged residents of Angwin to leave as well.

Among the losses reported was Harbin Hot Springs, a well-known resort and clothing-optional spiritual retreat in the small town of Middletown.

The small town of Middletown in Lake County suffered a direct hit from the massive Valley fire, with blocks of homes and other structures lost. Photos showed Middletown’s main street burned, along with part of a school. Also burned was an apartment complex in the town.

Middletown has a population of 1,300 and is south of Clearlake and north of Calistoga.

Parts of the town of Cobb and Hoberg’s resort also saw losses.

A total of 40,000 acres have burned, officials said Sunday, or 62 square miles. As the hours passed on Sunday, the fire burned largely unchecked, with officials reporting zero percent containment despite their efforts.

In addition to the lost homes, more than 5,000 area residences were without power.

The Valley fire started around 1:30 p.m. Saturday near Cobb and spread at an astonishing speed, fueled by hot conditions and landscape left bone-dry by years of drought.

The state is calling in hundreds of firefighters from around California to battle the blaze, which was hopscotching across oak woodlands and grasslands, driven by 20 to 30 mph winds.

“This fire has burned much quicker than we’re able to get resources into the area,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

More than 1,000 personnel already were on the scene by Sunday morning, including 125 engines, four air tankers and 16 dozers.

Authorities also had to maintain focus on the Butte fire, burning through Amador and Calaveras counties, where more than 4,100 fire fighters are deployed. At least 6,400 structures remain under threat of that blaze.

Residents near the Valley fire had little time to evacuate.

At a Red Cross evacaution center in Calistoga, “people streamed in all night,” said manager Sandy Timmons.