By Lunch and Page
Mono County Supervisors held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to hear an update on the Mountain View Fire that burned rapidly through the eastside of Walker last Tuesday, destroying 128 structures.
By contrast, the Round Fire which roared through Swall Meadows in 2015 destroyed 42 structures.
Steve Nelson, representing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) described the fire behavior as “crazy” with sustained wind for hours in the 50 mph range, with gusts reaching up to 78 mph.
Antelope Valley Assistant Fire Chief Mike Curti suggested may have even been stronger.
According to Curti, local volunteer Fire Captain Mike Mandichak had Davis Instruments (professional weather station gear) atop his house which recorded a maximum gust of 125 mph.
The wind was so powerful, related Curti, that Mandichak’s Davis Instruments were literally blown off the house.
According to local resident Dave Murray, it was “the biggest wind event anyone’s ever seen.”
Of the total 20,385 acres burned in the fire, Steve Nelson estimated that 20,000 were scorched in the initial burn period, which lasted about eight hours. Snow and rainstorms early Wednesday morning helped to prevent further spread in the area.
As of this week, the fire response and recovery efforts are being handled by local entities like BLM, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and various Mono County agencies.
Mono County Building official Tom Perry gave a report on the overall damage in Walker:
74 residences and 53 utility buildings were destroyed by the fire; the local branch of the Toiyabe Indian Health Clinic was the only commercial building destroyed. In all, 128 buildings gone.
In addition, 2 residences and 13 utility buildings sustained major damage (defined as 40-75% damaged by fire).
County Finance Director Janet Dutcher put the estimated private property loss at $16.359 million. That figure, she explained, is just based on real estate values, not personal property loss. She and the rest of the finance team used Perry’s building information and real estate sites like Zillow to come up with what she called a “back of the napkin estimate.” Dutcher believes the estimate is most likely below the actual loss.
Dutcher used information from the 2015 Round Fire recovery efforts to calculate public property damage, which includes debris and hazardous waste removal. In 2015, the cost for removal and disposal was $5.035 million for the 40+ structures lost in that fire.
With significantly more damage sustained in the Mountain View Fire, Dutcher estimated the debris removal cost would be at least double that of the Round Fire at nearly $11 million.
Emergency protective measures, costs related to law enforcement, animal control, and other county services, clocked in at an estimated $100,000. This number, Dutcher explained, does not include firefighting services
The loss of guard rails and signage along US 395 came in about $140,000 and the loss of the county solid waste transfer station was estimated at $70,000.
Dutcher cited other metrics that will play a factor in overall cost but are not yet known. These include individuals now unemployed, agricultural
property/assets lost, and the amount of tax revenue lost due to tax readjustments for property owners with damaged or destroyed buildings.
This is all, however, secondary in terms of importance, as the county is more focused on helping Walker residents displaced and otherwise affected by the fire.
Dutcher reported that California Disaster Recovery Assistance would cover 75% of the costs incurred while the county would cover the remaining 25% via an approved budget allocation from the General Reserve.
The Emergency Command Center (EOC) at the Antelope Valley Community Center in Walker has representatives from a number of local and state agencies on hand, EOC lead Justin Nalder reported, to answer any questions that locals may have about next steps.
Workshops for residents will be held Tuesday and Wednesday to walk them through the insurance process, loss of documentation (i.e driver’s licenses, passports), et. al.
County Director of Social Services Kathy Peterson stated that 172 people were initially relocated to the Red Cross temporary shelter at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden, Nev; that number has diminished as things are sorted out and people begin the process of moving forward.
22 families are currently being housed at the Topaz Lodge just across the Nevada state line; they are being helped by the Red Cross and Mono County Social
Clean up operations are handled by Mono County Environmental Health with assistance and resources provide by state agencies. The first phase will be clearing out visible household hazardous waste like paint can and propane tanks, Environmental Health director Louis Molina explained, along with identification of more hazardous materials like asbestos. Phase 2 will begin the first weekend in December and will be a much more methodical clean-up/disposal effort. Molina explained that the clean-up from the Round Fire took about a week, and based on that, the Mountain View Fire cleanup will likely take longer due to more widespread damage.
In terms of resources and information, those interested are encouraged to visit the county Mountain View Fire portal at mountainviewfire.monocounty.ca.gov as well as the Mountain View Fire Resources and Recovery Facebook page.
On the ground
Lunch drove to Walker Sunday morning to view the scene firsthand.
First stop was the firehouse on Larson Lane, where Dave Easton of the Humboldt-Toiyabe Nat’l Forest, Mike Curti, Asst. Chief of the Antelope Valley Vol. Fire Dept. and Antelope Valley Fire Captain Lori Morris, who also works for Mono County Social Services, shared a few stories.
“I’m amazed we didn’t have more deaths and injuries, especially among first responders,” said Curti.
In addition to one death (a woman died while she was apparently setting free her horses. Exact cause is unknown), another victim is currently at the Las Vegas Burn Center.
Visibility, they said, was 5-10 feet. Smoke, fire, sand …
The main job initially was just evacuations, and it was almost impossible to even find the addresses. Trucks engaged the fire as they could …
One distress call received was from a woman who couldn’t see well enough through the sandstorm to drive away. When she was finally reached, a firefighter managed to grab five photos off the mantel as they were fleeing.
The house was engulfed a minute later.
Larry Henry (at left) lives on Jocelyn Lane. As the fire approached, he and his elderly neighbors, Claudia and Dick Bonnet, escaped by driving up and around a canyon along a rough 4WD road, cutting bolts along the way to open cattleguards. But when they dropped back around onto Camp Antelope Road (imagine them skirting a mountain in a circular fashion, driving from 9 o’clock to 2 o’clock), they were met by fire.
So they literally parked their vehicles on a neighbor’s property that had a fair patch of defensible space.
The fire basically blew over and around them.
They then essentially followed the fire back to their homes.
Henry’s was standing. Bonnet’s was not.
Rather than evacuate, Henry said he spent the entire night using a shovel (he had no power for water) to put out spot fires, though he did lose a shed.
A neighbor up the road, Les Bates, similarly stood his ground and spent the evening defending his home.
Bates described the wind as sounding like a train. There was burnt debris just feet from his home.
He had video on his phone he showed me. Footage of staring out at a wall of fire.
He also said he’d heard that a family had moved into a house the day before on Birchim Lane and that the U-Haul was still parked in the driveway.
Patti Hamic-Christensen of the local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) reported that five marines returning to the Marine Warfare Training Center spotted the fire as they were driving back to the base and responded immediately, grabbing hoses and shovels. They also warned neighbors so they could evacuate.
The marines are credited with helping save the Noble family’s home.
Remarkably, many animals made it through unscathed. First responders said horses who had been let loose the day before were by and large standing around the corrals come morning.
And the local phlebotomist reportedly saved her emu.
On Sunday, there were four different companies and 150 personnel working on restoring power. Critical because there was concern about homes/pipes freezing.
The recurring themes one heard on Sunday were teamwork, bravery, courage, resillience, generosity.
Antelope Valley Lions served pastries and coffee at the community center. Bobby Carpenter (on page nine) is a Lions member. He escaped with his wife, his dog and his cat. Lost everything else.
Checks for the Mountain View Fire Relief Fund may be made out directly to “Northern Mono Chamber of Commerce,” and mailed to: NMCC, 106651 US HWY 395, Coleville, Calif. 96107.
*Please note on the subject line: “Mountain View Fire Relief.”