The Valley Fire has claimed 61,000 acres in Northern California since it started on Saturday. At least 400 structures have been destroyed and 13,000 people have been displaced. It’s a tragedy that has left most of the region’s businesses at a standstill.
Ross Hardester owns Hardester’s Market and Hardware in Middletown, California. The store, which has been around since 1943, is one of the few places in the area that’s open.
On what it feels like in Middletown right now:
I mean, it’s sad. There’s devastation in the neighborhoods surrounding the communities. We get people straggling in. Some of them saved their houses. Most of the people here in town … their houses are still standing, so they’re getting a few groceries to keep themselves fed.
On what people are buying:
They’re just buying milk, bread, whatever they can get. People are coming in for some hardware items. They’re trying to get their generators going. Not a ton of traffic, but people are trying to survive.
On employees leaving:
Yeah, my brother and a couple other managers. We’re here just talking to people and trying to keep one register open so they can get stuff….
The fire happened so quickly on Saturday. About 5 o’clock, both of our stores closed. They could see flames coming in the hills down into town, so they all took off. I went home to get their stuff and get out of the way.
On when they’ll know if everything is going to be all right:
We have hope. The fire department doesn’t know too much. They’re just trying to get control of the different angles of the fire. We’re hoping in the next day or two they can start getting some control and let everybody know. A lot of people have called into the store and want to know when the roads are open, want to know what we hear about their neighborhoods. We don’t have much information, but we can look across the street. We try not to spread rumors, but if we know a fact, we can tell them.
On firefighters coming into the shop:
The firefighters are taken well care of from their suppliers, but they like to come in to the air conditioning. They’ll get drinks and chips, take a little deep breath, then they’re on their way.
On what happens next:
Things like this have happened before. It’ll take time, but people will rebuild and get back in their homes and their properties, and fight to get their lives back.
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