Firefighter returns to home destroyed by Valley Fire

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. -- The cause of the massive Valley Fire that's burned 70,000 acres in Lake, Sonoma, and Napa counties is only 30 percent contained. Though the cause is still under investigation, officials believe it started in or near a small shed in Cobb.

DONATIONS: How to help victims of the Valley Fire where you live

Community support for firefighters has been huge this week. ABC7 News has seen photos of support across the region. There's a lot of support for them in Middletown, where some of the firefighters have lost their homes.

Firefighter Dave Watkins was pretty sure his home would burn but he told ABC7 News that he needed to see it firsthand to believe it was gone.

For eight years, Watkins has seen loss firsthand. With Cal Fire, he's often on the front lines. Now the Valley Fire has blurred the lines between firefighters and victims.

"I do my job to protect other people and their homes," he said. "And it's kind of devastating to find out you're helping other people while there's another fire going on and your house is going up and there's really nothing you can do about it."

Watkins was on his way from the Butte Fire to the Valley Fire when his home was destroyed. As many as 10 firefighters lost their homes, according to Cal Fire. Three of them lost their homes to the Butte Fire, while seven others were hit hard by the Valley Fire.'

"I heard lots of rumors of the area, but I needed to see for myself whether it was standing or not," Watkins said.

A total loss. One image he says stands out in his mind is the outline of the trampoline in the backyard. Watkins' 10-year-old son Dylan wasn't here at the time.

"It still really hasn't set in yet," he said. "But I'm sure with the help of the community and getting overwhelmed with generosity from everybody from the department from the community it is helping out a lot."

Community members like Michelle and Amanda Waller painted their support on their vehicle for everyone to see.

"My daughter has done this three times," said Michelle. "We made it through the Rocky Fire, we made it through the Jerusalem Fire, and we made it through the Valley Fire."

PHOTOS: Fire crews battle massive Valley Fire

Amanda added, "I just wanted to thank them because they're saving our homes."

Watkins continued to fight to save those homes as his vanished.

"There was nothing I could do about my own house so I had to protect everybody else," he said.

Watkins is taking a few days off now, but he says his main goal is to get back to work. Fighting fires, he says, is where he feels most comfortable.

"I'm going to be fine," he said. "I'll rebuild, I'll find somewhere else to live."

Watkins says he is one of two firefighters who lost their homes on that block. He lived there for about four years and was renting from a friend, so it's a loss for both of them.

RESOURCES: Valley Fire evacuation centers, school closure information

Governor Brown spoke about the brave men and women's sacrifice Monday.

"When you hear that firefighters themselves, you can imagine yourself in that position, it's obviously, it's scary stuff," he said. "It takes a lot of courage."

If you would like to help, Cal Fire is working the the "Forestry Crabfeed" to set up a fund to help all of these firefighters. For those wishing to donate you can mail checks to the following:

Forestry Crabfeed FF Relief Fund
2210 West College Ave
Santa Rosa, Ca 95401
Attn: Olga Leitch

One hundred percent of the money collected will be given directly to the firefighters. In addition the Forestry Crabfeed, which was established as a benevolent fund to assist the employees in the Sonoma Lake Napa Unit, is a non-profit 501c3 so your donation is tax deductible, tax payer ID 45-3748304.

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PHOTOS: ABC7 News at the Valley Fire

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