The Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians converted part of its Twin Pine Casino & Hotel event space into shelter for those who lost homes and possessions in the Valley Fire.

Middletown Rancheria Pomo Provide Shelter, Aid to Valley Fire Victims

Richard Walker

Four residents died. Four firefighters were injured. More than 76,000 acres were burned. Some 1,958 homes and businesses—including entire blocks—were destroyed. Another 93 buildings were damaged.

RELATED: ‘Entire Neighborhoods Turned to Ash’: Wildfire Sweeps Over Two Counties, Woman Killed

There are several Pomo Rancherias, or reservations, in Lake County, one of the hardest-hit by the recent Valley Fire: Big Valley, Elem, Middletown, Robinson, Scotts Valley, and Habematoel (Upper Lake). The Lake County Tribal Health Consortium serves a population of 3,341 (its clinics in Lakeport, Clearlake and Middletown emerged unscathed by the fire). The Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians was closest to the fire.

While the Middletown Rancheria itself reportedly escaped damage, residents there have relatives or friends who live in town. The Twin Pine Casino & Hotel—with three restaurants, a bar and lounge, an event center and a gift shop—employs as many as 200 people, Native and non-Native. Among those who lost their homes: Tommy Garrett, executive chef at Twin Pine Casino & Hotel.

“Many tribal members as well as employees of Twin Pine Casino & Hotel and Mount St. Helena Brewing Co. were victims of the fire’s devastation,” Middletown Pomo Chairman Jose Simon wrote in a statement about the relief fund. “A united community now faces the long road of recovery together.”

Even before the Valley Fire that swept through Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties was declared fully contained on October 6 and residents were allowed back to whatever remained of their homes and neighborhoods, the healing had begun.

RELATED: How to Help Valley Fire Victims in California: Events, Fund-Raisers and Donations

The Middletown Rancheria converted the event center at Twin Pine Casino & Hotel into a Red Cross disaster relief center for the community, and hotel rooms were made available to those who had lost their homes. The tribe also established a relief fund. The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians donated $5,000.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) set up modular homes to provide housing for fire victims. A cash-strapped California Department of Finance scraped together $10 million from its rainy-day fund to help pay for fire cleanup. Residents donated food and started crowdfunding campaigns to help those affected by the fire; among those sending food were schoolchildren who boxed up vegetables they grew in their school gardens.

Volunteers found, sheltered and reunited pets with their owners. Various individuals, organizations and non-profits planned fundraising events. One organization planned “A Weekend of Healing” to help meet fire victims’ emotional needs. At one point, 40 of the 59 rooms in the Twin Pine Casino Hotel were occupied by people affected by the fire. As of October 11, 20 rooms were occupied by residents who suddenly find themselves planning how to rebuild their lives.

“They’re still devastated and shocked,” said Rose Eadeh, who works at the front desk of the Twin Pine Casino & Hotel.

The Valley Fire was reported at 1:24 p.m. on September 12 and, fueled by wind and a drought-parched landscape, spread quickly over the towns of Cobb, Harbin and Middletown, also reaching into Sonoma and Napa counties.

Ultimately, 248 firefighters, 14 engines, three helicopters and two bulldozers were deployed, according to Cal Fire. In the end, the fire took human life and destroyed 1,280 homes, 27 multifamily buildings, 66 commercial properties, and 585 minor structures such as outbuildings and sheds. The fire damaged 41 homes, seven commercial properties and 45 minor structures. Twelve local, county and state agencies were involved.

“It’s really incredible,” Eadeh said. “I just moved here from Los Angeles two months ago, and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s incredible, the love and support everyone is giving.”

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