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On Boggs Mountain in Cobb, the Humboldt Road area shows the  devastation wrought by the Valley fire, Friday Sept. 18, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

On Boggs Mountain in Cobb, the Humboldt Road and Summit Drive area shows the devastation wrought by the Valley fire, Friday Sept. 18, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

“When the wind picked up, the fire spread
And the grapevines seemed left for dead
And the northern sky looked like the end of days
The end of days”

“The firemen worked in double shifts
With prayers for rain on their lips
And they knew it was only a matter of time”

Excerpts from “Grapevine Fires” by Death Cab for Cutie

The horrendous first days of the Valley fire, which roared to life on September 12th, has drifted in to the shadow of endless nightmares.  A month has passed and very few residents have begun the process of cleaning what remains of their homes.  The laborious task of sorting through local, state and federal regulations has begun and those affected by Lake County’s summer of destruction will spend months sloshing through red tape and yet unknown frustrations.

An American Flag in the Valley fire zone on Cobb Mountain, Tuesday Oct. 6, 2015.   (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

An American flag in the Valley fire zone on Cobb Mountain, Tuesday Oct. 6, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been in to the fire zone; the miles logged and the incredible people I’ve met since it all began.  I’ve listened to the horrible and frightening stories of escape, talked to children and adults alike who’ve recounted over and again stories of peril, survival and loss.  The dreams are much the same as mine, fires raging, homes burning. Angst and sleepless nights coincide with dread.  Although I didn’t suffer any personal loss to the Valley fire, being witness to such physical and emotional carnage takes a toll on mental well being.  Up until last night, the dreams had been nightly.  I can’t imagine what the PTSD will be like for fire victims.

Maria Fonseca, left and Tanya Drew both lost their homes to the Valley fire, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Maria Fonseca, left and Tanya Drew who both lost their homes to the Valley fire, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015, greet one another for the first time since the fire, during a town meeting at Middletown High School. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Shock usually wears off within a few days of a personal disaster.  The complexity and enormous scope of the fire has delayed some normal reactions, at least from what I have seen.  Residents are still open to questions and photographs. Those stories need to be told and am grateful for an opportunity to do just that.  Years ago, I received great advice from a colleague at another newspaper that I needed more intimacy within my photographs.  As the Press Democrat coverage continues, my goal is to tell stories that will move, bring about change and show real life as it unfolds in front of the camera.

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Ron and Kathleen will rebuild their home in Cobb, Tuesday Oct. 6, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Working on a story about tree cutting in the fire zone which ran in today’s paper, I came across David Neft, a Cobb resident who was sorting through the remains of his Hobergs Drive home.  His brother Leonard Neft, died as the fire swept through Anderson Springs. He told tales of his sibling, a man who at times kept to himself and loved the solitude of Anderson Springs.  Brothers who argued, as relatives are apt to do, but spoke to each other with love and compassion.  Bonded together with blood, forever tied to the Valley fire as victims. He continued to sift and dig as the warm October sun rolled across the sky, shadows growing longer. Neft says he’s taking it “Minute by minute,  some days are good and some days are bad.”

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David Neft, who lost his brother Leonard Neft to the Valley Fire, perishing near his home in Anderson Springs, also lost his own home in Hobergs, Wednesday Oct. 7, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

A statue at Leonard Neft's home in Anderson Springs, Thursday Sept. 17, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

A statue at Leonard Neft’s home in Anderson Springs, Thursday Sept. 17, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Tammy Snow was the manager of the Middletown apartment complex (below) that burned to the ground in the hours after the Valley began.  She was a resident too and like other survivors, has been sifting through the rubble of her apartment to find personal keepsakes, small physical links to a past.

The Valley fire torches an apartment complex in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, 2015 in Midletown. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015.

The Valley fire torches an apartment complex in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, 2015 in Middletown. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015.

The managers’ family, lifelong Lake County residents, helped with sifting. Calmly, methodically, shovel after shovel full, rocking back and fourth.  She told the story of a young firefighter, 22, who lived in the complex.  He and his crew were on the Butte fire and called back as part of a strike team to defend homes in Middletown.  Arriving late in to Saturday night, the crew set-up shop defending the very apartment the young man lived in.  The fire was too much, the water pressure to low.  Valiantly they defended, Snow said, but were beat back by the sheer ferociousness of the blaze. As she finished the story, Snow laughed triumphantly, throwing her head heavenward, finally finding the object of the search.  Her grandmother’s rings.

Tammy Snow of Middletown belts out a laugh of joy after finding her grandmothers rings in the remains of her apartment  Thursday Sept. 24, 2015 in Middletown.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Tammy Snow of Middletown belts out a laugh of joy after finding her grandmothers rings in the remains of her apartment Thursday Sept. 24, 2015 in Middletown. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Samantha Wood drove up and parked on the slightly slanted driveway of her Cobb Home.  The house she and husband Josh shared with their two children had disappeared in a matter of minutes as the fire raced through.  Transplants from Southern California, the two had carved out a nice existence in the oasis of Cobb’s pines.  She had a garden with roses and vegetables and loved the sound the trees made when wind would caress the pine needles. Her kids love the school they go to, Cobb Elementary, and have many friends.  Josh, a beer brewer practiced his craft at home.  “A perfect place to raise a family,” she said.  Wood was upset that some pines on her property were marked for cutting.  The family promptly covered over the ‘X’ painted on the trees, as if to say, the fire took our home, don’t take our trees.  “We will rebuild, we will be back,”  she said.

Samantha Wood and her husband Josh placed placards around their property warning crews not to cut their trees, Wednesday Oct. 7,  2015 in Cobb.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Samantha Wood and her husband Josh placed placards around their property warning crews not to cut their trees, Wednesday Oct. 7, 2015 in Cobb. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

With that, she used a gallon of water and quenched the asparagus she had planted before the fire. In palette of surrounding blackness, the plant is taking root.  Even the grass is coming back, due to the local water company’s effort of erosion control, by watering the area down with water trucks.

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Samantha Wood waters her garden, Wednesday Oct. 7, 2015 in Cobb. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

A meeting was held for those affected by the Valley fire at Middletown High School.  It was the first time the entire community had been together in one place since the blaze.  Free food was provided by CalPine.  FEMA and other organizations were on hand to answer questions about financing.  Under a setting sun, clouds created a most surreal landscape.  The PG&E utility command base was a stones throw from the football stadium where the meeting was held.

Valley fire scarred hills in Middletown provide a backdrop for motor homes brought in to house Pacific Gas and Electric Company crews as they continue to replace power infrastructure in the burn area , Thursday Sept. 24, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Valley fire scarred hills in Middletown provide a backdrop for motor homes brought in to house Pacific Gas and Electric Company crews as they continue to replace power infrastructure in the burn area , Thursday Sept. 24, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

The Mayacmas Mountain range with Mt. St. Helena, left, basks in an early fall heat wave, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015, as Middletown residents gather at the Middletown High School football field to discuss the future of the town.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

The Mayacmas Mountain range with Mt. St. Helena, left, basks in an early fall heat wave, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015, as Middletown residents gather at the Middletown High School football field to discuss the future of the town. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

fire hats were given out to kids during a Valley fire town meeting and barbecue at  Middletown High school, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Fire hats were given out to kids during a Valley fire town meeting and barbecue at Middletown High school, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

FEMA and other organizations  were on hand to help Middletown residents navigate financing and rebuilding ,Thursday Sept. 24, 2015, at Middletown High School.   (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

FEMA and other organizations were on hand to help Middletown residents navigate financing and rebuilding ,Thursday Sept. 24, 2015, at Middletown High School. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Life will get back to normal slowly and hesitantly.  The biggest hurdle from the parents perspective was to get kids back to school, in to a normal routine, to laugh and be with peers. It wasn’t without emotion during the first day back in Middletown but it was obvious the kids needed to be back in their groups, to not talk about the fire.  It was much needed sanity in world thrust upside down for teachers and students.

Cobb Elementary School was spared from the Valley fire (it sustained heat and smoke damage) still students are being re-routed to Middletown High and middle school to attend their classes. Cobb Elementary teacher Marc Morita and daughter Lily  Monday were accompanied to class by Heidi Hennek, and her daughter Gracelynn, embracing her nephew Beau Davis who lost his home to the blaze, Sept. 28, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Cobb Elementary School was spared from the Valley fire (it sustained heat and smoke damage) still students are being re-routed to Middletown High and middle school to attend their classes. Cobb Elementary teacher Marc Morita and daughter Lily, Monday, were accompanied to class by Heidi Hennek, and her daughter Gracelynn, embracing her nephew Beau Davis who lost his home to the blaze, Sept. 28, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

2 year-old Beau Davis returned to school in Middletown Monday Sept. 28, 2015, one of  the hundreds that lost their homes to the Valley fire .  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

12 year-old Beau Davis returned to school in Middletown Monday Sept. 28, 2015, one of the hundreds that lost their homes to the Valley fire . (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

On the first day of classes since the Valley fire swept through Lake County, Micheal Murphy, 17,  is handed a shirt from teacher Shaun Roderick with wording  'Middletown Strong'  Monday Sept. 28, 2015.  Murphy and Roderick both lost their homes to the fire. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

On the first day of classes since the Valley fire swept through Lake County, Micheal Murphy, 17, is handed a shirt from teacher Shaun Roderick with wording ‘Middletown Strong’ Monday Sept. 28, 2015. Murphy and Roderick both lost their homes to the fire. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Middletown Middle School students meet on the athletic fields to talk about the Valley fire, on the first day of classes since the disaster started. A stark reminder of the devastation to the area can be seen in the background, Monday Sept. 28, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Middletown Middle School students meet on the athletic fields to talk about the Valley fire, on the first day of classes since the disaster started. A stark reminder of the devastation to the area can be seen in the background, Monday Sept. 28, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Pacific Gas and Electric responded to the Valley fire quickly.  Crews from all over California descended on south Lake County within hours of the fire, mobilizing a force that numbered in the thousands.  Crews were directed not to talk with the media, not even give their names.

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A Pacific Gas and Electric crew from Sutter, fill in a hole after replacing a power pole that was burned during the Valley fire on Trinity Road in Hobergs, Tuesday Sept. 22, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Pacific Gas and Electric crews are busy replacing the power line infrastructure in the Valley fire burn area,  An excavator is used to remove and auger out the existing hole where a burned power pole was damaged on Humboldt Road in Hobergs, Tuesday Sept. 22, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Pacific Gas and Electric crews are busy replacing the power line infrastructure in the Valley fire burn area, An excavator is used to remove and auger out the existing hole where a burned power pole was damaged on Humboldt Road in Hobergs, Tuesday Sept. 22, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

There are also signs of hope, determination, warning and thanks.

Thursday Sept. 24, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Cobb Mountain Community Fellowship Christian Church in Cobb. (Kent Porter / Press democrat) 2015

The Valley fire's destructive path through Middletown, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

The Valley fire’s destructive path through Middletown, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Retired police officer Steve Mooney, right, greets his neighbor Phil Sanders as Mooney patrols his Cobb neighborhood on the lookout for looters not burned by the Valley fire, Thursday Sept. 17, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Retired police officer Steve Mooney, right, greets his neighbor Phil Sanders as Mooney patrols his Cobb neighborhood on the lookout for looters robbing homes not burned by the Valley fire, Thursday Sept. 17, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

A resident added greenery marking the Valley fire's destructive path through Middletown, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

A resident added greenery marking the Valley fire’s destructive path through Middletown, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

-Kent Porter