Nearly Trapped by the Valley Fire: An Escape Story

By Taelor Duckworth, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Saturday, September 12th, 2015 began much like any other for Terran Compton of Cobb, Calif. He woke up, made his way to the kitchen and began the task of searching for jobs. The 18-year-old has been looking for work in Lake County since he graduated from high school without much luck. He and his 11-year-old brother had the house to themselves because his mother was working at Twin Pine Hotel & Casino where she is a waitress.

In the early afternoon, he realized something wasn’t quite right. He looked out his window and saw thick, dark gray clouds of smoke and a man from his neighborhood running through the streets screaming, “FIRE!” Terran didn’t worry though. There had been several fire calls before, but nothing ever close to their property. He didn’t think it would come toward them.

When Terran’s mother pulled into their driveway at the end of the winding mountain road shortly after, she told him they needed to evacuate. They grabbed only the essentials and loaded them into the car, along with their two dogs.

“It all happened so fast,” said Terran. “We thought we had time. But the fire moved too fast, and we had almost no warning. Being at the end of the road, we were slower than the rest of our neighbors to get out.”

Firefighters came down their road to tell them it was time; they needed to get off the mountain. But as the Comptons quickly made a scan of their house, the Valley fire was burning too fast and too hot to be controlled. By the time they came outside to leave, firefighters told Terran and his family it wasn’t safe to take their car; they needed to get into the fire truck.

The fire had surrounded their property and was moving fast through their neighborhood. Because Terran’s house is at the end of the road, he, his family and the firefighters were all trapped, surrounded by the flames. Firefighters worked to put the flames out around the property while the family huddled in the safety of the fire truck.

For four and a half hours, they watched as their neighborhood burned down around them. The firefighters were working tirelessly, but at times Terran wasn’t sure if they would be able to get out alive.

By 8 p.m., Terran and his family were finally able to escape the neighborhood in their car with clearance from the firefighters. They sped down the mountain as flames licked the sides of the road. After escaping what he describes as a horror movie, Terran’s family went to stay with his grandmother for a few days. When they heard about the Napa County Fairgrounds, where the Red Cross and other organizations were providing help, they headed that way.

In the Red Cross shelter, they found some of their friends and neighbors.

“We really enjoyed staying there and getting to just have fun and try to forget with everyone else,” said Terran.

As news rolled in about the extent of the fire and the damage sustained, Terran’s mother learned that one of their friends—the man who came down the street to warn them about the fire—was one of the fatalities reported.

When evacuation orders were lifted after two weeks, the Comptons were surprised to find out that their home was left untouched. They even had electricity.

“Even without water at our house, it just feels nice to be there, to be home,” Terran said.

Much of their food was ruined, and they still have to boil water, so for now, Terran’s family has been seeking food, water and support from the Red Cross distribution site near their home.

“The Red Cross has been great so far. They’ve been really nice. They’ve been feeding us, giving us supplies and taking care of us. Everything about it has been really awesome, and I couldn’t appreciate it more,” said Terran.

While Terran says he will never forget what he saw that day, he feels they are lucky to have made it and lucky to still have their home. Now, he plans to find work with the clean-up crews on the mountain, so he can play a role in rebuilding his community.

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