California wildfire evacuees find charred ruins

Brian Skoloff
Associated Press

Middletown, Calif.  — Some residents cried as they walked through the rubble of their homes while others shared amazing stories of survival as more people returned to their houses Tuesday and surveyed the twisted metal and smoking ruins left behind by a devastating California wildfire.

Gary Herrin sobbed as he walked through what had been his childhood home in Middletown.

“Yep, grew up here, was able to walk to school from here. Many friends lived close by,” Herrin recalled, looking around. “There’s a lot of good people here, but it’s a ghost town now, it’s really eerie.”

His brother had been living in the home and members of his extended family resided nearby.

“I go to my brother-in-law’s house, my niece’s house, and there’s nothing, nothing, ashes,” Herrin said.

A number of people saw the devastation for the first time since the massive flames sped Saturday through rural Lake County, less than 100 miles north of San Francisco.

Aided by drought, it had consumed more than 104 square miles and was 15 percent contained.

Authorities say 585 homes were known to be destroyed, and the number was expected to increase. Another 9,000 structures remained threatened.

During his return, Herrin walked to the charred remains of an old Chevy pickup and gave it an angry kick. The truck was the only possession of his late father that he still had. Other people found nothing but concrete foundations and chimney stacks.

“You’ve got to look at everybody’s, everybody’s loss,” Herrin said. “It’s never going to be about one person. It’s about everybody.”

The Lake County fire and another blaze about 120 miles to the southeast have displaced 23,000 people and were the worst of a dozen wildfires burning in the state.

The Lake County fire spread into northern Napa County, but the region’s famous wine valley was not threatened.

Rancher Lisa Comstock said she and her three dogs survived the raging fire in rural Middletown by jumping into a water trough as flames neared her home.

Comstock was also able to keep her horses nearby as the fire burned around them.

“The flames were coming over that mountain and surrounding this place like there was no tomorrow,” she said. “I jumped in the water trough with all the dogs, and the horses came up around. Thank God they just stayed here.”

At one point she was sure she wasn’t going to make it but talking to her animals helped keep her and the animals calm.

Thousands of utility crew members and firefighters were working diligently to control the blaze and get life back to normal for as many people as possible, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dave Shaw.