The Valley Fire, one of the worst in California’s history, has destroyed nearly 1,600 homes, charred hundreds of square miles and claimed the lives and property of many people in Northern California, including the homes of some members of Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245.
“Many of them narrowly escaped with just the clothes on their backs. Some are sleeping in tents and trailers,” says the gofundme site set up by Local 1245 to assist their members.
Currently, 39 members have been either temporarily or permanently displaced, four of whom are retirees. Most live in the Lake County area, north of Napa and the hardest hit. Six wildfires have blazed through it this year, including the current Valley Fire which is 70 percent contained. It has scorched over 75,000 acres and destroyed more than 600 homes. Another big fire in the area, the Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras County, southeast of Sacramento, has burned more than 70,000 acres and ravaged 545 homes so far. These two fires are considered to be among the worst in the state’s history.
|Local 1245 members, many of who are also battling the fires, have fallen victim to the onslaught of flames and smoke that have destroyed thousands of square miles and about 1,600 homes.
PG&E lineman Cody Smith has seen the devastation from a professional and all-too-personal standpoint. He, his wife – who is nine months pregnant – and other family and friends were stuck at their ranch for four hours, sheltering in trucks and surrounded by the inferno of the Valley Fire.
"There was no smoke," Smith said to Mercury News. "It was solid flames, 30-feet high blowing horizontal."
The Valley Fire also got to Garry Herrin, a power plant operator for Northern California Power Agency, but he decided to stay and save what he could. With the help of his two sons and three friends, he saved nine homes, five horses, some goats, two dogs and a pet turkey named Jive, the Press Democrat reported.
“The mountain looked like one big ember,” Herrin said of nearby Cobb Mountain, where the fire ripped down its side fueled by 60 mph winds.
A third big fire, the Rough Fire, is burning in the Sierra National Forest, east of Fresno, which has torched over 141,000 acres. The area is not heavily populated, but it has been burning since July 31, making it one of the longest burning fires this year.
Local 1245 represents 11,000 employees of PG&E, the utility company responsible for many of the power lines in the area. Members do everything from working in the call center to tree trimming to repairing the downed lines, many of which are being decimated by the wildfires.
More than 1,000 members are currently working on the Valley and Butte Fire restoration, where more than 1,000 poles have been decimated.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our brothers and sisters working tirelessly to help contain these fires,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them and the families of everyone who has been affected.”
Local 1245 is working with PG&E on an agreement to give displaced members a $1,000 stipend and seven days of lodging. Members at other companies do not have this employer-provided assistance though, which is why the local started the fundraising page.
Government-sponsored evacuation shelters are available for displaced families, but they are crowded and many people are living in tents or horse trailers, said Rebecca Band, communications organizer for Local 1245.
Band said the donation money will be used to cover basic necessities like clean clothes and safe lodging. Those wishing to donate can go here.