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California

California wildfires: Middletown suffers a devastating blow

Valley fire

A home and shop are burned by the Valley fire as it enters Middletown in Lake County.

(Kent Porter / The Press Democrat / AP)

The small town of Middletown in Lake County suffered a direct hit from the massive Valley fire.

There is no official count on the losses in the town. But photos and video have shown numerous homes and businesses on fire, as well as an apartment complex and part of a school.

Many residents fled to a shelter in Calistoga, where some awaited word on their community.

Middletown resident Suzanne Robinson believes her house was spared. She doesn’t know, but feels guilty, she said. “There were only two ways out and the roads were jammed. A friend who works for CHP said cars were burned, some crashed and caught fire. He said it shot flames across the highway. He had to floor it.”

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She hugged her friend, Wendy Gattoni, who trembled and began to cry as she recounted her escape from the fire without knowing if the rest of her family was leaving too.

Gattoni’s daughter was unreachable by phone and it wasn’t until late Saturday night that she and her husband and daughter reunited at the county fairgrounds evacuation camp.

Sharon Woita’s home in Middletown is gone.

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“A neighbor said there are only three houses left on our block.” When she saw the fire crest the ridge behind town Saturday afternoon, she went to the nearby casino to fetch her father and took him and her dogs out down the highway.

“I said holy fruit,” said her father, William Woita, 84, describing the scene as he stepped outside and saw the black smoke all around. “We ended up here. I don’t even know where I’m at.

Middletown has 1,300 residents and is located between Clearlake and Calistoga along Highway 29.

Said one resident at the Calistoga shelter: “20 years we’ve all raised our kids together. Being a small town you know everybody." 

paige.stjohn@latimes.com 

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