LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Clearlake residents who stayed at the evacuation shelter created for those who fled the Cache fire on Wednesday faced another move on Saturday as the county moved into Middletown closed, a move that has created tension between city and county governments.
The 83-acre fire, which according to an initial estimate had destroyed 56 houses and 81 outbuildings, began on Wednesday afternoon. The worst damage occurred at Creekside Mobile Home Park, where most homes were reported destroyed, and other nearby homes – including some in Cache Creek Mobile Home Park – also burned to the ground.
With work ongoing to fully extinguish the fire, residents of the Clearlake area south of 18th Avenue and east of Highway 53, with the exception of Adventist Health Clear Lake Hospital, were unable to return home on Saturday due to an ongoing mandatory evacuation order
While city officials said they hope residents will be able to repopulate this area by Sunday, it is not yet clear if that is still not clear due to the amount of tree removal and utility infrastructure that needs to be completed to make it safe.
In the days since the fire, several dozen evacuees are said to have been in the evacuation.
This housing was vital for many. The reason, as City Manager Alan Flora noted, is that some of the poorest members of the community lived in the fire zone.
The shelter was originally set up on Wednesday afternoon at Kelseyville High School. On Thursday it was relocated to the Twin Pine Casino in Middletown.
During the meeting of Clearlake City Council on Thursday evening, City Councilor Russ Cremer had asked why the shelter was not in the city’s senior and community center, which was previously evacuation shelter – including for the Valley Fire – and had undergone significant upgrades to keep it to make it ready to serve that purpose.
Then, on Saturday, Clearlake officials, including Mayor Dirk Slooten, said they were told that district administration commissioner Carol Huchingson had ordered Lake County Social Services workers to leave the shelter as it was an urban emergency, not one Acting emergency in the county.
“We know that this morning, on Carol’s instructions, the county officials were being fetched from the shelter,” Flora said.
Flora said the county’s social welfare office has a shelter team to respond to such situations and has done so for the past few years.
Huchingson, Social Services Director Crystal Markytan, Supervisor Moke Simon – who is also chairman of the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians, which owns and operates the Twin Pine Casino – and Assistant County Administrative Officer Matthew Rothstein did not respond to an email from Lake County News comment on Saturday.
Board chairman Bruno Sabatier, whose district is a part of Clearlake, said he is working with the city to coordinate with the Red Cross, which operates the shelter at the city’s senior and community center at 3245 Bowers Ave.
He said he spoke to both Huchingson and Simon and was working on “ensuring the people displaced by the Cache Fire are cared for until they can return home or we can find more permanent solutions for those who have lost their homes.” . “
One district official who offered to explain the decision was Sheriff Brian Martin.
He told Lake County News that 1,600 people have been evacuated and that based on previous events, they expected only about 10% to seek refuge.
Ultimately, Martin said there were only 16 people in the shelter, and since all the homes destroyed were in the town of Clearlake, it was not the county or tribe’s responsibility to help. The Red Cross was ready to run a shelter in the senior citizen center, so the shelter in Twin Pine was closed.
Martin said he didn’t know when the closure was taking place, but said that Simon said he was giving people ample time to transition.
“It’s not a county emergency, it’s a city emergency,” said Martin, adding that the city has an obligation to deal with the situation.
Martin also said that he was not aware of any mutual requests for help from the city to the district office at the time.
When asked why the county supported the Lakeport flood victims in early 2017, Martin said this was a nationwide emergency.
Gemini Garcia, a Lake County News employee, went to Twin Pine for a Saturday afternoon assessment and did not receive a friendly welcome at the facility.
She said a pop-up tent and cribs with a couple of Red Cross blankets were set up in a back parking lot in the smoky outdoor conditions at the time.
Three men had been left at the casino animal shelter by then, with several small dogs caged and a deceased dog waiting for Animal Care and Control to pick him up, Garcia said.
She said she spoke to two of the men who refused to give their names or be photographed. They said they had no family or friends and no assets.
Garcia said no one could confirm that the shelter was moving anywhere.
Later that afternoon, Slooten said the city was opening the senior center and allowing evacuees to move in that night.
Slooten targeted Huchingson directly for treating the town’s evacuees, saying it bordered on negligence.
He suggested that Huchingson’s actions were in retaliation for an ongoing lawsuit by the city against the county for failing to put up for auction on non-taxable properties in the city, some of which were decades in arrears.
He said that many such properties are in the fire zone, and a map of the county of tax-deferred properties in that location showed several dozen properties in the area that are in arrears, some for more than 30 years.
“I’m very angry about it,” said Slooten of the situation.
One of the sticking points seemed to be that the city wanted to transport its evacuees shower trolley to the casino. Flora said it was the first time in days for some of them that they had a chance to bathe. However, he said they were told the casino didn’t want to deal with the shower trolley.
Moving to a new location
At the shelter on Saturday night, Cremer, Flora, Councilor Russ Perdock, Sabatier and Police Chief Andrew White continued to work with the Red Cross to ensure the shelter was fully operational. Slooten had been there earlier in the evening to set up.
The evacuees were able to use the shower trolley installed in the center with four stands and another shower trolley from Adventist Health, which was looked after by Perdock.
At the time, Flora said he had spoken to Simon, who accused the city of having no plan for the future. Flora, in turn, had to remind Simon that the city had been in the middle of an emergency for several days.
Flora said there was a lack of communication between the town and the county – for which Simon apologized – although he said he wasn’t entirely sure what to believe.
In his comments to Lake County News, Martin said there had been no mutual requests for help in the emergency beyond the initial response.
“There have been numerous inquiries from the start,” White said when asked about Martin’s testimony. “It’s an evolving situation.”
Flora said the city is considering opening a local fire survivor relief center this week and considering ways to move people to other shelters. He said they are working with state officials to get help with short-term housing options
White said they contacted virtually everyone who had a home in the fire area and there are still no missing person reports.
Due to the speed of the fire and the concentration of houses in the area, Flora said the deaths had been a major problem.
The California Department of Housing and Community Development is the governing agency for RV parks.
Flora said housing and community development inspectors were on site Thursday.
The State Department of Toxic Substances Control has agreed to send a dangerous goods team to work on measures to contain the heavy metal-laden ash, particularly in the Cache Creek area. However, Flora said the state required the county to declare a health emergency first.
This point has not yet been included on the Tuesday agenda of the Supervisory Board. Flora said it was his understanding that the acting public health officer will make the statement on Monday and the board will ratify it on Tuesday.
In addition to state aid, there is still the potential for the city to have to shoulder the recovery largely on its own, as the state and federal damage thresholds that would qualify it for emergency aid are not met.
However, the city has notable allies seeking help, including Rep. Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and State Senator Mike McGuire, both of whom have assisted Lake County and its communities in previous disasters.
On Saturday evening there was another hopeful note in the animal shelter.
Hope City’s Kevin Cox, who helped rebuild homes in South County that were destroyed by the Valley fire, was on hand to assist city officials.
His organization finished its work in Middletown earlier this year and is now working on campfire salvage in Paradise.
Cox and his 12-person staff have helped 26,000 families across the country get their homes back after fires.
Cremer said Cox was one of the first people he spoke to this week as the city grapples with its own rebuilding process.