"There’s no silver bullet to this particular issue," state Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said. "There is a patchwork of capability that we’re looking at. We’re looking at everything from hotels to what rental properties may be available, to opening an old resort -- the Konocti Harbor [Resort], to also putting manufactured housing on the ground."
The fire's confirmed death toll rose Wednesday morning when the Lake County Sheriff's Department announced the discovery of a fourth body in ruins left by the fire.
"Our hearts and minds and prayers go out to all of them," Lake County Supervisor Jim Comstock said, "but we are very encouraged there are not more of them at this time. Our communities will rebuild."
The county expects to lose $2.1 million in property tax revenue per year. The total cost of the fire is, of course, much higher.
"It’s conceivable and realistic that the cost overall when you take in loss of revenue, response cost and everything, clearly is in the hundreds of millions of dollars," Ghilarducci said. "We don’t have an exact figure yet."
Officials candidly described a fire that moved too quickly to control, with initial firefighters and other first responders on the scene quickly shifting from fighting the flames to attempting to evacuate communities in blaze's path.
"We’re past the preparing for fire now," Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said. "It’s now being ready to go. People have to have evacuation plans in place. This fire spread miles just within a few hours."
Some residents likely didn't know they should evacuate until the fire was upon them, officials said, despite notifications sent via reverse-911 calls, among other methods.
"I don’t think people understand how rapid and how violent this fire was," Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said. "In some cases those phone lines were burned down before the messages were delivered to people."
Update, 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23: Officials in Lake County say they've found an apparent fourth victim of the Valley Fire.
The Lake County Sheriff's Office reported Wednesday that searchers had discovered human remains in the community of Cobb, one of the areas the fire roared through shortly after it started the afternoon of Sept. 12.
The office said the victim is presumed to be Robert Taylor Fletcher, 66, who was last seen the day the fire started and was reported missing several days later.
Deputies are still trying to locate another missing man, identified as Rob Litchman, 61, a resident of the Siegler Springs area near the town of Lower Lake.
Cal Fire reported Wednesday that the 76,000-acre blaze is 80 percent contained. The firefighting agency also gave its latest report on the number of structures destroyed in the blaze: 1,238 homes and 672 outbuildings. With a total of 1,910 structures destroyed, the Valley Fire now ranks No. 3 on the agency's list of most damaging fires since 1923.
Cal Fire says the number of structures incinerated in the Valley blaze, which has crossed into Sonoma and Napa counties, is likely to rise by several hundred when damage assessment teams are finally able to tour the entire fire area.
Update, 1:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21: Cal Fire has raised its estimate of homes destroyed in the Valley Fire to 1,050 -- and warns the number could rise further.
Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said that damage assessment teams have covered about 80 percent of the 76,000 acres -- nearly 120 square miles -- that have burned since Sept. 12. The number of residences destroyed makes the Valley Fire the state's fourth-most-damaging fire on a Cal Fire list that goes back to the 1923 Berkeley Hills disaster, which destroyed 584 homes in a neighborhood just north of the University of California campus.
The Valley Fire is now 70 percent contained with a huge force, more than 4,200 personnel, working to build lines around it.
Separately, the firefighting agency also issued a revised report on the number of homes burned in the Butte Fire, which has burned nearly 71,000 acres, or 111 square miles, in the foothills of Calaveras and Amador counties. With damage assessment continuing, the agency has documented 545 residences destroyed.
Authorities have confirmed three deaths so far in the Valley Fire and two in the Butte Fire.
Together, property losses in the two fires are the worst the state has seen since October 2003, when nearly 4,000 homes were lost in conflagrations that swept hundreds of square miles in San Diego and San Bernardino counties.
Update, 9:20 a.m. Friday, Sept. 18:
Firefighters advanced containment of the Valley Fire burning in Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties to 40 percent overnight, and one of two people still missing since the fire's start was found safe.
The Associated Press reports that 56-year-old Edwin Null was discovered at a friend's home Thursday night. Family members thought he was in the fire zone near Middletown.
Three people are confirmed killed in the fast-moving, 115-square-mile fire that destroyed parts of Middletown, Cobb and other Lake County communities. Two people were found dead in the 110-square-mile Butte Fire burning in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento.
The Butte Fire was 60 percent contained Friday morning. More than 8,000 firefighters are battling the two blazes. Cal Fire says temperatures expected to break 90 degrees this weekend, with very low humidity, could present challenges to the firefighting effort.
Causes of the fires are under investigation. Cal Fire is investigating a PG&E power line and conductor as a potential source of the Butte Fire. PG&E says a live tree, which was inspected six times in the past two years, may have contacted the power line.
Update, 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17:
From the Associated Press:
Two more bodies were found in the burned ruins of homes in California, bringing the death toll to five from two of the most destructive wildfires in the state in recent memory.
Both fires continued burning Thursday, but cooler weather and rain helped firefighters gain ground on the blazes that have destroyed more than 700 homes.
Official identifications have not yet been made, but the sheriff's office said the two bodies found in Lake County were presumed to be those of Bruce Beven Burns and former San Jose Mercury News police reporter Leonard Neft.
A woman was found dead Sunday in the blaze burning about 100 miles north of San Francisco.
Shirley Burns said her 65-year-old brother-in-law might have been sleeping in his trailer and didn't realize the fire was speeding toward him on Saturday.
"It came in very fast, it was a monster," she said from her home in Lodi.
She recalled Burns as a laid-back guy who sold items at a Clear Lake flea market and lived in a trailer at the family's metal recycling yard.
"He reminded me of a big teddy bear," Shirley Burns said. "He was a real kind and gentle person. He had a beard and looked like a mountain man."
Neft's wife and daughter were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
He last spoke with his family on Saturday before authorities found his burned-out car on a route he would have used to escape.
His daughter, Joselyn Neft, previously said Adela Neft repeatedly called her husband Saturday to tell him to leave the house, but he told her he didn't think the fire was coming toward him.
Neft's house was in the same area where Barbara McWilliams, 72, was found dead. She told her caretaker she didn't want to leave her home near Middletown and would be fine.
Cadaver dogs found the latest bodies on Wednesday in the Hidden Valley and Anderson Springs areas.
Two other bodies were found inside homes destroyed in a separate wildfire about 170 miles away in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Calaveras County coroner Kevin Raggio said.
One was identified as Mark McCloud, 65, who was found Tuesday in the Mountain Ranch area.
Raggio wouldn't release the name of the other victim because the family had not been notified.
The disclosures came as firefighters gained ground on the massive blazes amid cooler weather and rain on Wednesday.
The fire in Lake County had charred 115 square miles and was 35 percent contained. An estimated 585 homes and hundreds of other structures have burned.
The fire in Amador and Calaveras counties has burned 110 square miles. It was 49 percent contained after destroying 252 homes.
Update, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16: Calaveras County coroner Kevin Raggio confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that two people have died in the Butte Fire.
Mark McCloud, 67, was found near his home in Calaveras County. The second victim was a 65-year-old man who refused to heed a mandatory evacuation order, says Raggio. He declined to identify the second man, saying the family hasn't been notified.
Authorities say they are now using dogs to search for several other people who may have been killed in that fire.
Cal Fire reported this morning that the fire now stands at 73,700 acres, with 35 percent containment.
Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a power line coming into contact with a tree may have sparked the Butte Fire, which has now burned more than 71,000 acres.
“While we don’t have all the facts yet, a live tree may have contacted a PG&E line in the vicinity of the ignition point,” Barry Anderson, PG&E vice president of emergency preparedness and operations, said Wednesday to the Chronicle. “We are cooperating fully with Cal Fire in an investigation of whether this could have been a source of ignition for the Butte Fire.”
Update, 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16: A second life has been claimed by massive wildfires that swept through Northern California this week. The Calaveras County Sheriff has confirmed a fatality resulting from the Butte Fire, according to an update posted on Twitter by Cal Fire public information officer Daniel Berlant. More information is expected soon. The Butte Fire has predominantly impacted Calaveras County, and was 45 percent contained as of the most recent update. So far, the Butte Fire has destroyed just over 400 structures.
Update: 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 16:
There are currently 14,000 firefighters across the state of California battling 10 active blazes, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said in a Wednesday update. But crews are making progress.
The Valley Fire, which has already been designated as the most destructive wildfire in 2015, has caused one known fatality and scorched about 100 square miles, with more than 600 structures damaged in the blaze. That property toll doesn’t include barns or sheds that went up in flames along with homes burnt to the ground.
“When all the other outbuildings are assessed and a full damage assessment is complete, it is likely that this fire will be in the top five most destructive fires that we have seen in our history,” Berlant said.
Firefighters are making progress, thanks in part to cooler temperatures -- the Valley Fire was 30 percent contained as of Wednesday morning. At the same time, another weather-related factor was working against their efforts. A number of hot spots continue to smolder throughout the fire zone, and these small fiery patches can be reignited by gusty winds. Those powerful gusts can spur flare-ups and threaten to reverse firefighters' progress in bringing blazes under control.
Farther to the east, in Calaveras and Amador counties, firefighters were also making progress in gaining control of the Butte Fire, which has scorched 71,780 acres and already ranks as the state's 14th most damaging blaze. The Butte Fire now stands at 45 percent containment.
Throughout the affected areas, thousands of people who have been put up for days at evacuation centers are still waiting to return.
“There are still thousands of residents who have been evacuated from this fire,” Berlant said of the Valley Fire. “Many are asking when can they get back home, and we are hoping to get them back just as soon as possible. But you’ve got to remember, there are a lot of hazards.”
Update 4:15 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15: The Valley Fire has caused at least $1 million in damage to California's largest geothermal energy complex.
The fire disabled five cooling towers at The Geysers network of power plants, northwest of Middletown.
Brett Kerr, a spokesman for Calpine, which runs the plant, said the fire may have also left it isolated from the power grid.
"Some of the non-Calpine-owned transmission lines that deliver the power that is produced to the Geysers to the actual market were also damaged, so while there might be the ability to generate capacity and energy at the Geysers, it may not be able to make it to the grid," he said.
Officials who manage the grid say damage at The Geysers will not have a significant impact on the state's energy supply.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting investigators are focusing on a burned-out shed in Cobb, where the fire started, in trying to pinpoint the cause of the conflagration.
Update: 2 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15:
At this morning's fire briefing, medical officials cautioned firefighters to watch out for signs of stress. A lot of firefighters are local, officials said, and they know plenty of fire victims.
Of course, the worst anxiety is being experienced by those who have had to leave their homes and belongings behind. From KQED health reporter April Dembosky's post on our State of Health blog today:
For a lot of other people here, the anxiety of not knowing [the fate of their homes] is getting to them. Dr. Colleen Townsend, a family practice doctor in Napa, is helping to staff the makeshift medical center inside one of the buildings on the fairgrounds. She says anxiety is one of the main complaints. And that is making other health conditions worse.
“So many folks in this area are really affected by chronic illness,” Townsend says, especially diabetes and high blood pressure. Because people were evacuated so quickly, many didn’t have time to grab medications.
“Certainly in these settings their blood sugar and blood pressure are already rising just from the stress of the occasion,” Townsend said. “Without adequate supplies of their medicines, that can cause acute symptoms like feeling shaky, nausea, sometimes dehydration.”
People have also been worried about their pets. Some residents are being escorted back into evacuation zones to retrieve them. It's dangerous out there for animals, as can be seen in this post by a veterinary clinic in Lakeport. The clinic is treating a burned black cat that was rescued by firefighters near Middletown.
It's disturbing, yes, but fear not, the cat is doing much better. "Eyes are improving fast!! He's purring and rubbing his head for kitty kisses!! Thanks for all the inquiries!!" the clinic wrote. If you know who the owner is, call 707-263-5380.
Update 1:40 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15
In Napa County, near Pope Valley and Angwin, advisory evacuations have been lifted for Summit Lake Drive, Howell Mountain Road North, North White Cottage Road and Ink Grade Road.
Update 10:40 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15
In an emotional letter to his colleagues on Monday, Santa Rosa Press Democrat staff photographer Kent Porter captured the havoc caused by the fire:
I am floored by the amount of devastation I’ve seen. Whole communities were wiped off the map in a matter of minutes. We all have friends up there, families and people we’ve met in passing. What struck me the most is the utter completeness of this disaster.
Virtually nothing is left above the proper of Cobb. The houses are down to foundations, even some chimneys are gone. Driving through the area is like looking at a ghost community. So much gone, so many ways of life disrupted, so much hardship remains for the people affected. In Middletown, you can draw a line where firefighters stopped the fire. They saved downtown. Anderson Springs is nearly 80% wiped out, same goes for the homes along Highway 175 in the canyon to Cobb. Hidden Valley suffered losses too, as did Hobergs and Adams Springs. I didn’t make it to Siegler Canyon, it was way too dangerous (but I did try).
We’re all journalists, we’ve all seen catastrophes and witnessed amazing, great things. If there is anything you can donate, especially for the children and seniors, now would be a good time. Overwhelmed is pretty good word to use when you think of what an uphill climb it will be for them.
Update 10 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15: In this morning's update from Cal Fire, the agency said more resources have been arriving to fight the Valley Fire. Firefighting aircraft are now in operation, and lower temperatures and higher humidity are aiding efforts.
The toll of homes destroyed now stands at 585, and hundreds of other structures have also been destroyed. Nine thousand other structures are still threatened.
The fire has now scorched 67,000 acres -- about 100 square miles -- and is 15 percent contained. The hope is containment can be increased before the weather shifts again. About 13,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.
Areas surrounding the town of Cobb were hit hard yesterday, with about 100 homes burned. The Friends of Cobb Mountain Facebook page has been posting local reports of damage.
Here is the latest map of the Valley Fire from Cal Fire. You can see the small communities that have been swallowed up in red -- places like Adams, Howard Springs, Whispering Pines, Hidden Valley Lake. Click on the map and you'll be able to zoom in.
Evacuation orders in parts of Napa County have been made advisory instead of mandatory. From the Napa Valley Register:
The advisory evacuations cover Pope Valley Road between Aetna Springs Road and Howell Mountain Road, Ink Grade, Summit Lake Drive and North White Cottage.
Mandatory evacuations remain in effect in Napa County along Butts Canyon Road, Berryessa Estates, Snell Valley Road and Pope Valley Road from Aetna Springs North to Lake County.
Mandatory evacuation orders still remain in effect for:
Hwy 29 x Hwy 53, South on Hwy 29 to Tubbs Lane in Napa County, all of Hwy 175 in the Cobb area, Point Lakeview to Soda Bay on Hwy 281, all of Bottle Rock Road and High Valley Road. Butts Canyon Road from Hwy 29 to Napa County line (including all of Berryessa Estates). The communities of Twin Lakes, Hidden Valley Lake, Middletown, Aetna Springs, Seigler Canyon, Loch Lomond, and the Riviera Areas.
Fire officials said today some people are being allowed back into their homes to get pets and medication. A high school near Lower Lake is being used as a staging area to bring people to their homes, reports KQED's Scott Shafer. Residents will have 15 minutes to check, feed and water animals.