Wednesday, November 1, 2017

On the more rural areas of Northern California hit by the deadly fires in October

A few stories this past weekend in major California newspapers have focused on the consequences of the early October wildfires in Mendocino County, as opposed to more populous Napa and Sonoma counties.  The Los Angeles Times reported under the headline, "Wildfires devastate California pot farmers, who must rebuild without banks or insurance," and the San Francisco Chronicle story was headlined "Deadly Mendocino County Fire under the radar of Wine Country devastation."   This lede from the Chronicle story sums up the rural v. urban angle (or at least degrees of rural ....) between these regions/counties:
Like thousands of other North Bay fire victims, the traumatized residents of the bucolic Redwood Valley are sifting through rubble, negotiating with insurance agents and struggling to figure out how they are going to rebuild their fire-scarred lives. 
The only difference is that the hellish inferno that rolled through their community two weeks ago went virtually unnoticed by a world mesmerized by the flaming disasters closer to San Francisco. 
The Redwood Valley Fire was not exactly ignored, but it was a side note during a historic week of calamity in Northern California — subordinate to the conflagrations that destroyed much of Santa Rosa and ripped through Wine Country towns in Napa and Sonoma counties. 
But the aftermath is no less horrible for the 1,759 farmers, vineyard keepers and pot entrepreneurs who live in this rural community between Ukiah and Willits — a place isolated enough for stagecoach robber Black Bart to use as a hideout and, about a century later, for Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple cult to set up shop before moving on to bigger things.
It's interesting that journalist Peter Fimrite refers to Mendocino County as the "North Bay." I'd agree with that characterization for Napa and Sonoma, but not once you get as far north as Mendocino.  Nevertheless, his "per capita" point is well taken (by me, at least):
The fire that swept through the community early in the morning on Oct. 9 killed eight people, blackened 36,523 acres and destroyed 545 buildings, about a quarter of the homes there, fire officials said. It was at least as damaging, per capita, as the cataclysmic blazes to the south.
Fimrite quotes George Gonzaelz, the battalion chief for the Mendocino unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection:
It’s probably the largest modern disaster here in Mendocino County.  But nobody is paying attention.
And that, it seems, is par for the course when it comes to rural America.  I wrote a post making a similar point after the Butte and Valley fires (in Napa and Lake counties) two years ago.

Here's an excerpt from the LA Times story focused on the pot industry's losses.
Because the marijuana culture of Northern California has survived in secrecy for the last 50 years, and mostly still does, no one can know the exact loss to the industry. 
The threat of losing a year’s crop and cash reserves pushes many growers to take risks a grape farmer neighbor might not. 
When the fires broke, farmers thrashed over four-wheel-drive roads with horse trailers full of hastily cut marijuana. Some defied evacuation orders to save the crops. 
Others left, and lost everything.
Lots of posts about California's pot industry--with a focus on Mendocino, Humboldt, and Lake counties (the so-called Emerald Triangle) can be found in this blog. 

Postscript:  "As deadly fires burned Redwood Valley, delays, confusion about evacuation orders" in the Los Angeles Times on November 5.  An excerpt follows: 
But a Times review of police and fire dispatch calls that morning describe a chaotic scene in which officials debated when to send evacuation orders. The recordings provide an overview of communications that night as the fire swept through the valley but do not provide a full sense of what firefighters and law enforcement were doing on the ground. The county so far has declined to provide additional records. 
The dispatches and interviews show the county issued an evacuation order in Redwood Valley more than an hour after the fire was first reported there. During that time, several Redwood Valley residents phoned 911 dispatchers to say they were trapped by fire.

Firefighters struggled with a lack of manpower and equipment in the rural county, which relies heavily on small fire departments and volunteers. State and local engines, including the Redwood Valley volunteer fire department, were sent to battle fires that had started earlier in the night in the adjacent Potter Valley.  

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