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House lights from the occupied home of Ron Haskett and his wife Kathleen Ahart, play in contrast to the darkness of a destroyed neighborhood on Summit Blvd. in Cobb Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016. The Valley fire took out nearly the entire neighborhood including the fir trees that once enveloped the area, leaving sky high views. The couple were the first to rebuild in the area. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

House lights from the occupied home of Ron Haskett and his wife Kathleen Ahart, play in contrast to the darkness of a destroyed neighborhood on Summit Blvd. in Cobb Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016. The Valley fire took out nearly the entire neighborhood including the fir trees that once enveloped the area, leaving sky high views. The couple were the first to rebuild in the area. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

It’s been over a year since the Valley fire swept through southern Lake County. Documenting the regrowth of the area has meant a lot of trips back and forth from Sonoma County, which comes out to about 72 round trips.  I’m sure that I missed things photographically, but my intention was to go up and not have an agenda when I looked to document the aftermath of such a disaster.  I’ve been time and again drawn to the barren hillsides that were once flush with fir and oak trees.  The sometimes bleak terrain where homes and lives once flourished has given way to a new way of life.  Homes are being rebuilt, albeit probably slower than some thought.  With the absence of trees, planted gardens are flourishing, reacting to the nearly non existent tree cover in the communities of Cobb, Gifford and Anderson Springs.  Still, there is desolation.  Anderson Springs is quiet, the septic issue has been a setback for those looking to rebuild. Foundations and homes are starting to pop up, but not with the frequency as the other communities. Middletown and Hidden Valley are also rebuilding.

 

Barbara McWilliams, 72, of Anderson Springs, was discovered Sunday Sept 13, 2015 in her home, a victim of the Valley fire. On Tuesday July 19, 2016 a sunflower grows next to the footprint of the home. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Barbara McWilliams, 72, of Anderson Springs, was discovered Sunday Sept 13, 2015 in her home, a victim of the Valley fire. On Tuesday July 19, 2016 a sunflower grows next to the footprint of her home.  (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Mentally, the scars will remain for years.  Disasters of Valley fire magnitude have this effect. Those that were trapped by the flames and lived to tell the story relate nightmares and flashbacks.  Anger remains. Heartache for what was, will remain with those that rebuild from the ashes.  Everyone has a story to tell about the fire.  Residents are eager to describe in detail the horror of watching flames indiscriminately devour their lives in matter of seconds, evacuating with nothing but the clothes on their back and mourning for an entire community with its vibrant ecosystem of life.

 

Margit Pataki takes a plunge in Anderson Springs, Monday Aug. 29, 2016 surrounded by burned trees and vacant parcels. A resident of Rose Anderson Road of the community, Pataki lost her home of 20 years to the the 2015 Valley fire. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Margit Pataki takes a plunge in Anderson Springs, Monday Aug. 29, 2016 surrounded by burned trees and vacant parcels. A resident of Rose Anderson Road of the community, Pataki lost her home of 20 years to the the 2015 Valley fire. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Hoberg's Resort is one of the last places in the Valley fire zone in need of debris removal, upper photo is from Sept. 13, 2015 and lower photo is from August 29, 2016. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016

Hoberg’s Resort is one of the last places in the Valley fire zone in need of debris removal, upper photo is from Sept. 13, 2015 and lower photo is from August 29, 2016. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016

 

Anderson Springs was all but wiped out by the Valley fire last September. Tall pines that once grew were burned, forcing crews to cut down most of them, Thursday Aug. 18, 2016, leaving a stark and changed landscape. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Anderson Springs was all but wiped out by the Valley fire last September. Tall pines that once grew were burned, forcing crews to cut down most of them, Thursday Aug. 18, 2016,  leaving a stark and changed landscape. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Ron Haskett and his wife and Kathleen Ahart take a moment to enjoy a sunset from the back deck of their newly built home on Summit Blvd. in Cobb Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016. A year after the Valley fire destroyed hundreds of homes in the Cobb Mountain area, they were among the first to rebuild. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Ron Haskett and his wife Kathleen Ahart take a moment to enjoy a sunset from the back deck of their newly built home on Summit Blvd. in Cobb Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016. A year after the Valley fire destroyed hundreds of homes in the Cobb Mountain area, they were among the first to rebuild. A year ago, they put a flag at the wreckage of their home, intent on rebuilding. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

On Hoberg Drive east, a firefighter attempted to save a structure on Sept. 12, 2015 during the Valley fire as others burn around him. In July 2016, the land remains bare as others are in the process of being rebuilt. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016

 

A portion of the Middletown Garden Apartments burns early Sunday morning September 13, 2015 in Middletown. In July 2016, the complex has been nearly rebuilt.

A portion of the Middletown Garden Apartments burns early Sunday morning September 13, 2015 in Middletown. In July 2016, the complex has been nearly rebuilt. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016

 

Harbin Hot Springs near Middletown, Sept, 14, 2015 after the Valley fire swept through. In August 2016, the popular resort is looking to reopen for the holidays. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Harbin Hot Springs near Middletown, Sept, 14, 2015 after the Valley fire swept through. In August 2016, the popular resort is looking to reopen for the holidays. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Beside the charred landscape and scorched trees, few remnants remain of the Valley fire, Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016 in Cobb. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Beside the charred landscape and scorched trees, few remnants remain of the Valley fire, Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016 in Cobb. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

A home on Meadow View Drive in Hidden Valley Lake burns, Saturday Sept. 12, 2015 due to the Valley fire. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

A home on Meadow View Drive in Hidden Valley Lake burns, Saturday Sept. 12, 2015 due to the Valley fire. The same neighborhood in September 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

On September 13, 2015 the Bennett home is engulfed as the Valley fire rages. Below, Bo Bennett and his grandson Eli, 4, have a discussion about bricks, Monday Aug. 29, 2016, salvaged from the chimney of the Bennett house in Middletown, some of the only remnants of the house that was razed during the Valley fire. The Bennett family intends to rebuild. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

On September 13, 2015 the Bennett home is engulfed as the Valley fire rages. Below, Bo Bennett and his grandson Eli, 4, have a discussion about bricks, Monday Aug. 29, 2016, salvaged from the chimney of the Bennett house in Middletown, some of the only remnants of the house that was razed during the Valley fire. The Bennett family intends to rebuild. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

During Cobb Elementary's first day of School, Wednesday Aug. 10, 2016 principal David Leonard, right, greets sixth grade teacher Marc Moreda. Leonard lost his home to the Valley Fire a year ago. At right is school secretary Karen Huff. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

During Cobb Elementary’s first day of School, Wednesday Aug. 10, 2016 principal David Leonard, right, greets sixth grade teacher Marc Moreda. Leonard lost his home to the Valley Fire a year ago. At left is school secretary Karen Huff. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Hidden Valley resident Bonnie Bishop, 55, lost her home off Noble Ranch Road to the Valley fire, which is now being rebuilt. Now she is part of a crew that is clearing charred trees in danger of falling at the Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve and EcoArts Park, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Hidden Valley resident Bonnie Bishop, 55, lost her home off Noble Ranch Road to the Valley fire, which is now being rebuilt. Now she is part of a crew that is clearing charred trees in danger of falling at the Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve and EcoArts Park, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Hidden Valley resident Bonnie Bishop, 55, lost her home off Noble Ranch Road to the Valley fire, which is now being rebuilt. Now she is part of a crew that is clearing charred trees in danger of falling at the Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve and EcoArts Park, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. At left is Cristina Clarke, also of Hidden Valley. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Hidden Valley resident Bonnie Bishop, 55, lost her home off Noble Ranch Road to the Valley fire, which is now being rebuilt. Now she is part of a crew that is clearing charred trees in danger of falling at the Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve and EcoArts Park, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. At left is Cristina Clarke, also of Hidden Valley. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Mark Calegari of Cobb inspects the deck of his Valley fire rebuilt home in Cobb, Tuesday Sept. 6, 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Mark Calegari of Cobb inspects the deck of his Valley fire rebuilt home in Cobb, Tuesday Sept. 6, 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

The Valley fire destroyed dozens of homes in Middletown, with these on Stewart Street, Sept. 14, 2015, The entire block was lost. A year after the Valley fire destroyed dozens of homes on Middletown's Stewart Street, Sept. 14, 2015, The area is dotted with rebuilding efforts. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016

The Valley fire destroyed dozens of homes in Middletown, with these on Stewart Street, Sept. 14, 2015. A year after the Valley fire destroyed dozens of homes, the area is dotted with rebuilding efforts. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016

 

Frank Werts is still cutting up remnants of fir trees that grew on his property, Friday Sept. 2, 2016, a year after the Valley fire burned his home and most belongings . Living in a donated motorhome, Werts is in the process of rebuilding his home...and life, (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Frank Werts is still cutting up remnants of fir trees that grew on his property in Anderson Springs, Friday Sept. 2, 2016, a year after the Valley fire burned his home and most belongings. Living in a donated motor home, Werts is in the process of rebuilding his home…and life.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

I’ve learned several things in my time documenting the fire zone. The picture of the goats, below, was a surprise encounter.  Reporter Martin Espinoza and I fed them what we had and tried to give them water.  Sadly, the owner of the goats told me that one died several months after the fire.

In what I used to imagine as a trip which seemed to take forever to cross Mt. St. Helena, in reality can take as little as 12 minutes on a good traffic day.  I can recount the conversations with so many people about life in Lake County.  Those that reside there, acknowledge the county does have it’s problems; but then again can’t that be said for every community?

For those of us that know the backroads, there are breathtaking views.  In my coverage of the area, I try to incorporate the scenic aspects to the region and I think it serves as a tremendous example of a Sense of Place.  Having grown up in Lake County (started in third grade) I would revel in the summers spent on the lake, fishing and swimming, diving off Lucerne’s Community Pier (now gone) and camping in the Mendocino National Forest. Winter could be especially boring, the lake was cold and too rough to fish. When I got older a driver’s license meant freedom from the family taxi, I was able to explore regions only see from afar.  With a camera, I was able to make pictures in new places and gain a unique perspective on the life people were living there. In reality, what we experience in our youth leads us down the path to a greater understanding of what it’s like to be rich or poor.  When the Valley fire roared over Cobb, I felt as though I’d been sucker punched.  This was an afront to a community that I once called home.  I  took the coverage very seriously and at times became both mentally and physically overwhelmed. Those personal images from the first night of the fire will be etched in my memory until I die, to only be softened by the march of time.  The way I see it, how do you make meaningful pictures if you can’t relate to someone on a personal level?  Sitting down and listening to the stories of the disaster was a vehicle to human interaction. In some ways, I think our society has forgotten how to listen to those with problems.  There were days I didn’t make any pictures, because the stories were riveting. Riveting.

Goats were let out their enclosure in hopes that they would survive the Valley fire in September of 2015, which they did. A year later, the houses and most of the trees are gone on Gifford Springs Road, Tuesday Sept. 6, 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Goats were let out their enclosure in hopes that they would survive the Valley fire in September of 2015 on Gifford Spring Road, which they did. A year later, the houses and most of the trees are gone, Tuesday Sept. 6, 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Cal Fire dozer operator Drew Bohan joined his wife Nahani, left, for their daughters first day of kindergarten at Cobb Elementary School, Wednesday Aug. 10, 2016. Lohan wears a shirt dedicated to the 104 Boggs helitac crew that was burned over in the early stages of the Valley fire. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Cal Fire dozer operator Drew Bohan joined his wife Nahani, left, for their daughters first day of kindergarten at Cobb Elementary School, Wednesday Aug. 10, 2016. Lohan wears a shirt dedicated to the 104 Boggs helitac crew that was burned over in the early stages of the Valley fire. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

A remnant of the Valley fire in Middletown, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

A remnant of the Valley fire in Middletown, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Slowly, Jacqueline Bartlett's home in Anderson Springs is being rebuilt, Monday Aug. 29, 2016. Nearly to the end of Anderson Springs Road, tucked in to a hillside, the Valley fire burned nearly every home in the community, including the Bartlett home. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Slowly, Jacqueline Bartlett’s home in Anderson Springs is being rebuilt, Monday Aug. 29, 2016. Nearly to the end of Anderson Springs Road, tucked in to a hillside, the Valley fire burned nearly every home in the community. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Sometimes you come across (with the help of reporters) people working together as a cohesive entity.  Such was the case of a crew clearing a heavily forested area named Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve and EcoArts Park.  This group of men and women are painstakingly removing dead trees.  They were fun to be around.  The joked, told dirty jokes and generally loved doing what they were assigned to do, below (and a few near the top of the post).

Hidden Valley resident Cristina Clarke is part of a crew that is clearing charred trees in danger of falling at the Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve and EcoArts Park, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Hidden Valley resident Cristina Clarke is part of a crew that is clearing charred trees in danger of falling at the Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve and EcoArts Park, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Hidden Valley resident Bonnie Bishop, 55, lost her home off Noble Ranch Road to the Valley fire, which is now being rebuilt. Now she is part of a crew that is clearing charred trees in danger of falling at the Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve and EcoArts Park, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Hidden Valley resident Bonnie Bishop, 55, lost her home off Noble Ranch Road to the Valley fire, which is now being rebuilt. Now she is part of a crew that is clearing charred trees in danger of falling at the Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve and EcoArts Park, Friday Sept. 2, 2016. Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Quiet moments.  I would sit and observe.  Talk. Laugh. Commiserate. Finally, I would ask to make pictures.  I trusted that residents of the fire zone would trust me to make the best picture possible of their struggle to find, in some cases, normality.

 

Margit Pataki meditates after taking a swim in Anderson Springs Monday Aug. 29. A resident of Rose Anderson Road in the the community of Anderson Springs, Pataki lost her home of 20 years to the the 2015 Valley fire. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Margit Pataki meditates after taking a swim in Anderson Springs Monday Aug. 29. A resident of Rose Anderson Road in the the community of Anderson Springs, Pataki lost her home of 20 years to the the 2015 Valley fire. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

"The fence burned down in the fire," Frank Werts says, "so my dog is back on a leash," Friday Sept. 2, 2016, a year after the Valley fire burned his Anderson Springs home and most belongings, Werts and his dog are living in a donated motorhome and will rebuild. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

“The fence burned down in the fire,” Frank Werts says, “so my dog is back on a leash,” Friday Sept. 2, 2016, a year after the Valley fire burned his Anderson Springs home and most belongings, Werts and his dog are living in a donated motor home and will rebuild. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Cobb Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kim Ferguson leads her charges to the first day of classes, Wednesday Aug. 10, 2016 in Cobb. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Cobb Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kim Ferguson leads her charges to the first day of classes, Wednesday Aug. 10, 2016 in Cobb. Hundreds of homes in Cobb were burned by the 2015 Valley fire.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

 

Where their was once thousands of trees off Humboldt Road in Cobb, few remain in the subdivision due to the Valley fire, Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

Where there was once thousands of trees off Humboldt Road in Cobb, few remain in the subdivision due to the September 2015 Valley fire, Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2016

-Kent Porter