THE VALLEY FIRE STARTED ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2015 AND BURNED 76,067 ACRES through parts of
Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, destroying 1,280 homes, 27 multi-family structures, 66 commercial
properties and the Callayomi County Water District’s offices and water treatment plant. What follows
are two views of the emergency response, the first from CCWD GM John Hamner, the second from San
Francisco PUC Emergency Planning and Security Director Mary Ellen Carroll.
A Small Water System Responds
By John Hamner
The Callayomi County Water District’s offices after the fire.
THE CALLAYOMI COUNTY
WATER DISTRICT (CCWD) is
a California special district that
provides drinking water to the town of
Middletown, a rural town in southern
Lake County. We had a population of
1,323 and 366 active water connections
before the Valley Fire broke out on Cobb
Mountain on the afternoon of Saturday,
September 12, 2015 and caused us to
lose approximately 39 percent of our
Unlike many water systems in the state, we
are fortunate to have plenty of water from a
leased well. We also have a bulk water station
where we sell water to water haulers and home-owners
outside the district whose wells have
gone dry, some as a result of the drought but
many because their wells go dry every summer.
At 7:30 p.m. on the day the fire started, I was
told that there were still more than 500,000 gal-lons
of water in our storage tanks to get the fire-fighters
through the night. The following morn-ing
I was getting ready to evaluate the system
when my operator called me. “It’s gone, John.
It’s all gone! The office, the treatment plant is
gone. The telephone poles are down; the wires
I tried to get to Middletown—if they still had
water in the tank, it would not last long—but I
was turned away at a California Highway Patrol
(CHP) roadblock. The officer was suspicious be-cause
I was in my personal vehicle. I was wear-ing
my shirt with the company name, and I tried
to show him my company credit card but he
was focused on the fact that I was not driving a
At around 1:00 p.m on Sunday, September 13,
my board president phoned me to tell me the
storage tanks were empty and Cal Fire needed
water to fight the fire. The remaining people in
town also needed water to protect their homes
and for sanitary purposes. I left immediately, de-termined
to get through.
My office and all of the buildings around me
were smoldering. I checked the portable genera-tor,
which was scorched but operable, and drove
to the storage tanks, which were fine. I checked
the well, which was also fine. Within minutes,
my operator and former general manager
showed up. Now I had two people who knew
the system. My board president, Carlos Ne-grete,
and the Tribal Chair Moke Simon also ar-rived.
Fortunately, we all had cell phones so we
We needed to get the storage tanks filled.
Our first challenge was to get the power gener-ator
to the well site. Our two utility trucks were
blocking the generator, and the only keys to the
vehicles were in the burned building. The local
tow company was unavailable, so we started
cruising through the streets looking for some-
• Check your insurance policy and make sure
that you are not underinsured. Also make sure
that you are not listed as a “co-insurer,” which
means that you are liable for up to 50 percent
of the losses incurred. Be sure everything you
want covered is written down.
• Own nothing but fireproof file cabinets. The
cost is worth it. Keep extra magnetic signs and
laminated ID badges.
• Develop a written MOU with neighboring water
systems for staff, repair parts and equipment.
One neighboring water system refused to
assist the community with hydrant water for
cleanup, which we would have never assumed
prior to this event.
• Plan for fuel emergency usage. Practice using
the generator. Make sure everything works like
it’s supposed to.
• Have a plan in case you lose company
• Back up your computers every day and put the
backup in the fire safe.
• During emergencies, post only facts online.
There was a lot of misinformation circulating on
Facebook, which only confused the situation.
• Educate your board members about their
responsibilities, which are primarily setting
• Try not to take things personally. Two of our
customers blamed us for their house burning
down. I had arguments, but people didn’t want
to hear them.