Old and new media play helpful roles during Valley fire

Valley fire

A playground slide stands among smoldering rubble of the Valley fire in Middletown, Calif.

(Stephen Lam / Getty Images)

As the Valley fire raced through small communities in Lake and Napa counties over the weekend, residents were desperate to learn the fate of loved ones and to hear when and where to evacuate and how to help others.

Those with access to computers and working cellphones could take advantage of resources that would have been unavailable not that long ago. But for those with only spotty cell service or who lacked mobile devices or who were cut off from landlines and TVs, there was an old standby: radio.

They tuned to — and turned to — KPFZ 88.1 FM, a radio station in Lakeport that serves the area near Clear Lake. Lakeport sits near the west edge of the lake, about 21 miles north of Cobb and 29 miles north of Middleton, both of which were hit hard by the fire.

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Hundreds of homes and others structures lie in ashes; 50,000 acres have burned.

The blaze started about 1:30 p.m. Saturday and quickly exploded out of control. But it was not threatening Lakeport, so the radio station could focus on the problems of people to the south.

The station switched to a full-time, call-in format late Saturday and, after a break between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., resumed taking calls. The goal was to connect the lost with the found, the needy with the givers. 

Jose Fernandez, 58, known locally as “Hippie Joe,” called in to offer space for horses in his barn. He’s got plenty of hay at his Upper Lake ranch, he said. A woman named Joan called in to report that evacuations were underway on Wildcat Road off Highway 175. She also lamented that Hoberg’s Resort and Spa, in nearby Cobb, where the fire may have started, had burned to the ground. (The Press Democrat ran a picture online that it identified as the burnt shell of that property.)


Another woman offered a futon in her house, along with a home-cooked meal. The local Moose Lodge called to ask for cat litter, for those with pets stuck in cars.

And so it went. 

Those with Internet access had other ways to keep up. CalFire tweeted updates on the size of the fire, the amount of damage and the status of evacuations. For detailed reports on each fire, updated several times a day, people could turn to the CalFire website at

In addition to media coverage, there’s a Facebook page called Lake County Scanner News Fire/EMS/Police.

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Communities used to coordinate efforts to help the displaced, both people and animals.

“Do you know where in Calistoga (I’m in this side of the fire), I can take donations and what they need?” Veronica Jessup posted on a Facebook page set up for Lake County.

“Is there a need for crisis counselors?” Michelle Fountain wrote. “I am a licensed therapist and would like to help in some way.”


Their offers were among many.

Another post noted that Lake County Animal Control was headed to an evacuation center with hay for livestock. And Sarah Elizabeth Delk was part of a group that bought three bags of horse feed to help out.

“I have a three-horse trailer,” Kathy Vyenielo Lord posted. “I can bring feed, transport, etc.”

Many residents were desperate for news.

“Can anyone tell me how close the fire is to Hidden Valley Lakes?” Leslie Djlesrocks asked in another post. “My parents are still in their home and won’t leave.”

“Can anyone tell me the official evac list?” Daniela Innocenti Beem posted. “My folks … said they haven’t received ‘official word.’ I do see it on the cdfgovernment page but dad says he hasn’t heard up there. So scared right now.”

There also was this forboding comment from the moderators: “I can tell you by the look on the Deputies and Cal Fire Officials, its not going to be good. I’m sorry.”
Twitter: @leeromney

Twitter: @howardblume


Map: Active California fires

Chronicling the devastation of the Valley fire

Valley fire: Residents of Middletown tell harrowing survival tales

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