It started with a knock in the early morning hours of Oct. 9.
“It was the sheriff,” recalled Pamela Mendala, owner of the Cloverdale/Healdsburg Kampgrounds of America (KOA) outside of Cloverdale, Calif., in a Monday (Oct. 23) interview with Woodall’s Campground Management. “He told us that we had to evacuate the entire campground immediately.”
A wildfire — called the “Pocket Fire” — had sparked in the hills surrounding Cloverdale, 38 miles north of Santa Rosa. Hot, dry and windy conditions were causing the fire to spread quickly as they had throughout the recent devastating spate of Golden State fires. “The campers that were here, around 150, were amazing,” said Mendala. “They got in their vehicles, left their things here and headed to an evacuation center in Cloverdale.”
The campground was shut down for about a week after this first evacuation announcement as fire crews battled to save homes and businesses. Although they returned thereafter, Mendala’s park was evacuated a number of other times.
“Air quality all over the area has been an issue due to the smoke,” she said. “Wind has been a constant variable during this whole thing.”
Thousands of homes were destroyed, but Mendala’s KOA was spared. “It came within a mile or two from the campground,” she said. “It is hard to tell due to all of the ridges and valleys we have in this area. We were untouched though, which is amazing. We are very grateful and humbled.”
Mendala, who has owned the park for nearly 25 years, said she’d never seen anything like the damage left behind by these wildfires which, to date, had scorched more than 245,000 acres, destroying 8,400 structures and killing 42 people. “There are areas that are completely decimated,” she said. “I have never experienced such terror, the knowledge that I am responsible for making sure everyone in my campground is safe.”
Mendala said her park is now working to make sure that staff members of support services, like insurance or electric companies that are helping Northern California recover, have places to stay.
“We are also providing food to the firefighters that are still battling the blazes,” she said.
Due to recent rains, meanwhile, the Pocket Fire is now 90% contained, according to CalFire. However, as many as 10 wildfires remained active throughout northern California.