Valley Fire One Year Later: Victims Rebuild and Reflect

LAKE COUNTY -- On this day one year ago, John Flynn ran into a hot car to escape a wall of flames roaring toward his home on Cobb mountain.

"It's surreal. I don't think you can describe it," Flynn said.

The Valley Fire devoured the house he built in 1989.

In the fire's immediate aftermath, FOX40 stood with him on a pile of debris as he looked for family heirlooms.

"For me, there was no decision. I was going to rebuild," said Flynn.

He's made a lot of progress.

"The house itself is almost to the exact same spot it was," said Flynn.

Flynn is an investigator with the Lake County District Attorney's Office.

He says he's learned what it feels like to be a victim.

"Actually being a victim, you get more of an appreciation of what people are going through for other crimes," said Flynn.

He's one of hundreds whose lives changed course on this day last September.

"It did 50,000 acres pretty much the first night, and for some, that's a two-week fire for your regular fires," said firefighter Byran Atkins.

Atkins lives in Cobb.

He was on the front lines of the Butte Fire when a bigger blaze exploded in size at home.

"Just wondering what was going on at home, we wanted to get home as quick as we could, we were four to five hours away," Atkins said.

Instead of going home to Cobb, Atkins came to Middletown to fight the fire.

The community miles from Cobb, was among the hardest hit.

"Just an entire town on fire," said Atkins, "It just looked like a war zone," he continued.

Streets in Middletown were littered with twisted metal and charred debris.

But even then there was a positivity amid a scene resembling a war zone.

"We're going to rebuild, at least we're together," a fire victim told FOX40 days after the fire.

It's that same optimism and determination that's allowed people like Flynn to push through the worst days of their lives.

"We'll be starting from scratch like newlyweds," Flynn said.

Starting fresh, creating a new home in a new community after one of the worst fires in California's history.

"You can't run and hide. We'll rebuild. Cobb will be strong and people will come visit us," said Flynn.