Nearly three months after San Diego County’s most destructive fire of 2020 torched her Lawson Valley home, Eileen Menzies, 78, is spending her days sifting through the rubble she has yet to fully clear of his property.

A neighbor whose new hemp farm was nearly destroyed meets lawmakers in hopes of improving farm insurance in fire-prone areas. And two miles through the hills to the north, a longtime resident has been unable to claim benefits from the county and the federal government for the loss of his home and vehicles because he has not all the necessary papers.

They are among those currently navigating a piecemeal recovery after losing homes and businesses in early September when the Valley Fire broke out near Jamul. Their barriers are growing in communities across California like never before after the record wildfires burned over 4 million acres and nearly 11,000 works, the consequences of a warmer and drier climate and mismanaged forests.

The total cost of the Valley Fire has not yet been finalized. Neither of which will pay for any of this.

The valley fire started on September 5th and quickly tore through dry grass and chaparral amid a heat wave. The cause remains under investigation. Hundreds of firefighters maneuvered the hilly terrain for several days to protect homes and contain the flames. The fire eventually burned 16,390 acres.

Firefighters block the road on September 6, 2020, as flames from the Valley Fire burn behind them on Japatul and Carveacre roads, southeast of Alpine. (Erik Anderson/KPBS)

Cal Fire damage inspectors identified 30 homes destroyed, including RVs, mobile homes and single family residences. Another 34 structures, including commercial buildings and miscellaneous structures larger than 120 square feet, were destroyed.

County staff accounted for $1.57 million in damage to farm operations, including the hemp farm, a vineyard and a ranch. So far, the county has paid out at least $2.6 million for its firefighting and recovery efforts, according to preliminary estimates.

The City of San Diego also suffered a loss of approximately $4 million when Camp Barrett, a former youth detention camp on communal land in alpine rural setting, burnt down.

Even with insurance, the recovery drags on

Menzies said she fled the fire once it reached the ridge above her property, about 10 miles from Jamul off Lawson Valley Road.

“Almost every year we had to worry about it, but it was the first time it crossed the hill,” she said. “And there was absolutely no help in sight.”

Eileen Menzies’ Lawson Valley property, which burned in the Valley Fire, is shown in the foreground of this photo, November 18, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

The fire burned down his 1972 mobile home, a travel trailer and five storage studios for his arts and crafts. Some of his animals, including a goat and peacocks, did not survive.

The hill above the mobile home where she lived is black and burned. She considered selling the 5-acre property and leaving, but couldn’t get a good price for the land. Now Menzies, who is temporarily living with her daughter in Spring Valley, is determined to rebuild and hopes to be able to return within six months.

She is still working to restore electricity to her property, which she needs for her well. Most of the time, she dons a face mask to protect herself from dust as she walks through the rubble, looking for pottery, molten metal, nails and screws that she might be able to recycle or scrap. use in works of art.

Eileen Menzies sorts screws and nails from the burnt rubble that remains on her property in Lawson Valley, November 18, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Then, bucket by bucket, she takes away the remaining rubble. The county has an $850,000 program to help property owners clean up their land by providing large debris bins at group sites or on their property. The program was due to end on November 15, but is now expected to end in December.

Last week, Menzies filled the trash can on his property for the 16th time.

She knows that the recovery can drag on. In the coming weeks, her son plans to move into his rebuilt home near Alpine which was destroyed in a forest fire two years ago.

Eileen Menzies uses a metal collecting magnet to sift through burnt rubble on her property in Lawson Valley, November 18, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

And what she expects to recover in insurance money from the loss of her mobile home won’t cover the full cost of a replacement that meets all modern fire codes.

A third of the 127 households that registered with the county for help after the fire listed them as uninsured on intake forms, said Jeff Toney, director of emergency services. County. He thought that number would be higher given the increasing departure of insurance companies from high fire risk areas.

Resident surveys after fires in other parts of the state suggest that even among those with insurance, most are underinsured.

How to help disaster victims

To help those affected by the Valley Fire, the county is working with the San Diego Foundation, which raises and manages charitable funds for recovery and reconstruction.

The foundation will make grants to nonprofit organizations and will not directly fund individuals or families. Donate to

Hemp farmer Eddie Campos says he was turned down by four insurance companies as he tried to insure his property against wildfires. He ended up having no insurance for what was destroyed in his 40 acres Farm without borders. He estimates his losses at $1.6 million.

Reduced to rubble were indoor grow rooms, warehouses and offices; inventory; and most of the crop. Campos said his team had harvested what was salvageable, but was not yet sure of the impact on quality.

His son, also the owner of the farm, lost his house which was on the property.

Campos said he’s had calls with local lawmakers, including County Supervisor Jim Desmond, Assemblyman Randy Voepel, state senses Ben Hueso and Toni Atkins, and Rep. Mike Levin for ask for help. He also has testified this month before the Assembly’s Committee on Agriculture.

“There’s just a huge list of people we’ve been in touch with to try to get things moving,” he said. “Trying to figure out what’s going to happen to all of us.”

Local governments negotiate with federal agencies

The Trump administration, after deny wildfire aid firstapproved federal disaster statement on October 16, which grouped the Valley Fire with the largest fires that occurred in northern and southern California around the same time.

Toney of county emergency services called it “fortunate.” The Valley Fire on its own would have been too small to qualify for federal assistance, he said, and the county can only provide limited assistance for things like erosion control, no housing and rental assistance.

That’s why having “insurance is huge,” he said.

Since October, people affected by the fire can apply for limited grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and loans from the Small Business Administration. Due to COVID-19, agencies are doing most of their outreach and registrations online or by phone, although they briefly operated an in-person center in San Diego County.

As of Nov. 20, the SBA had approved two home loans totaling $480,000. FEMA approved $44,900 in direct assistance to six households, but received 1,100 applications.

How to get help

Households that sustained damage in the Valley Fire can seek assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through Dec. 15. People can apply online at assistancecatastrophe.govby downloading and using the FEMA app on a smartphone or tablet, or by calling the FEMA Helpline from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. at (800) 621-3362 or TTY at (800) 462-7585.

The Small Business Administration accepts applications from homeowners, tenants, and business owners for low-interest loans. People can call from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. (800) 659-2955 or TTY at (800) 877-8339), or email [email protected]

San Diego County provides trash receptacles for property owners who remove debris from their property. The program information line is (619) 928-8694. People can make an appointment to pick up erosion control materials by calling the county’s stormwater hotline at (888) 846-0800.

For more information, residents can email [email protected] They can also dial 211 for health and community resources.

Joshua Havins, who lives in a valley off Japatul Road near Alpine, is still asking for help to get him through the first phase of recovery after the fire burned down his house, boat and the tools he used for his job as a handyman. He is looking for ways other than a utility bill to prove he lived in the property, as he lives there off the grid.

A flag pole and a rose bush were among the things left untouched after the Valley Fire burned down Eileen Menzies’ property in Lawson Valley on November 18, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

“It’s a lot to take in,” Havins said. “It doesn’t look like the real thing.”

He has not yet cleared all the debris from his property, where he is staying in a trailer.

Local government officials also meet with FEMA, which can reimburse 75% of some of the public costs of federal disasters.

FEMA has only agreed to cover costs that fall under emergency protective measures, such as erosion control, Toney said, though that’s still under negotiation. This forces the local government to pay for things like road clearing and debris removal.

Toney said recovery will take time, but he is already seeing people recovering from the fire.

“I think it’s a pretty resilient community, and it could have been a lot worse,” he said. “It could have been a lot bigger.”

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News: based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the journalist, or reported and verified by knowledgeable sources.

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