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Scope of devastation clearer as US wildfire evacuees return

Scope of devastation becomes clearer as California wildfire evacuees return to ashes, damage

Scope of devastation clearer as US wildfire evacuees return

The scope of devastation from one of California's most destructive wildfires is becoming clearer and so too is the size of the humanitarian need in one of the state's poorer counties.

Gov. Jerry Brown requested a presidential disaster declaration on Monday, noting that more than 1,000 homes had been confirmed destroyed, with the number likely to go higher as assessment continues in Lake County, 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of San Francisco. Many others are damaged or don't have power, leaving thousands in need of shelter.

"The biggest challenge is there aren't enough hotel rooms in Lake County," county Supervisor Jim Comstock said Monday. He lost most of his 1,700-acre (688-hectare) ranch to fire but kept his house.

Comstock said options for housing are limited in the rural county of small towns linked by winding roads. An evacuation center at the Napa County Fairgrounds is housing about 500 people in tents and campers, he said.

In a letter to President Obama, Brown noted the fire that started Sept. 12 has burned more than 117 square miles (303 square kilometers) and killed three people. At its peak, more than 19,000 people were ordered to evacuate. A "major disaster" declaration releases federal money for recovery efforts.

In the same letter, Brown also sought a declaration for another fire in Calaveras and Amador counties that started Sept. 9. That fire destroyed more than 500 homes and killed two people.

Firefighters have made significant progress and many evacuations have been lifted in the Lake County fire. But schools in the Middletown Unified School District are closed for a second week.

Downtown Middletown was spared, however. A bank, auto repair shop and massage business were open for business Monday. Firefighters helped homeowners sift through debris for rings and other valuables.

Rob Brown, another Lake County supervisor, said they are trying to match homeless residents with semi-permanent housing such as empty vacation homes.

"That's just some of the patchwork of solutions we're looking for," he said. "We're trying to keep people as close to their original community as possible."

Krystal La Plante, 25, said she and her boyfriend had been staying in a trailer in Napa County before bunking with a friend nearby in Lake County. They returned to their three-bedroom home in Anderson Springs on Saturday. She found a ceramic drip coffee pot and one of her pottery pieces.

Otherwise, her little "piece of heaven" flanked by trees as high as she could see, was gone. "I kept walking around asking, 'Where is my home?' I don't understand why it's not here. This isn't where I live,' " she said Monday.


AP photographer Noah Berger in Middletown, California, contributed to this report.

Updated : 2021-07-25 11:40 GMT+08:00