Middletown: The community at the epicenter of a raging wildfire

Before an explosive wildfire torched Middletown this weekend, this quaint hamlet toward the northwestern edge of California’s wine country was perhaps best known as a stop along the way to a clothing-optional spiritual retreat offering yoga and massage workshops.

Home to mainly commuters and retirees, Middletown saw a steady flow of tourists who flocked to nearby Harbin Hot Springs for its hot and cold pools and rustic lodging, including geodesic domes. The resort burned down during the massive Valley fire.

Middletown is also known for the Twin Pine Casino and Hotel, which is run by the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians. On Sunday morning, Twin Pine said the casino hadn't been damaged by the fire. The hotel is temporarily closed because of the evacuations.

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The blaze is the fourth in Lake County since August, following the Peterson fire, the Jerusalem fire near Middletown and the Rocky fire near Lower Lake.

Middletown suffered a devastating blow from the Valley fire. Entire blocks of homes and structures were burned to the ground. Images of the devastation show the town’s main street in flames, along with an apartment complex and part of a school.

Sharon Woita's Middletown home is gone.

"A neighbor said there are only three houses left on our block," she said.

When she saw the fire crest the ridge behind town Saturday afternoon, she went to the nearby casino to fetch her father and took him and her dogs out down the highway.

"I said 'holy fruit,'" her father, William Woita, 84, said, describing the scene as he stepped outside and saw the black smoke all around. "We ended up here. I don't even know where I'm at."

Home to about 1,300 people, Middletown is south of Clear Lake -- the largest natural lake in California -- and north of Calistoga. The community is part of Lake County’s lengthy wine history dating back to the 1850s and sits in the heart of what locals call California’s “undiscovered wine country.”  

The local economy is based primarily on agriculture, tourism and the geothermal power industry. The town is about 10 miles east of the Geysers, the largest complex of geothermal power plants in the world.

The nearby community of Cobb, about nine miles northwest of Middletown, was also hit hard by the Valley fire. Cobb was home to Hoberg's Resort and Spa, a popular mountaintop hotel, that was destroyed by the blaze.

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MORE ON CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES:

Old and new media play helpful roles during Valley fire

Hundreds of homes and other structures destroyed in Valley fire

Valley fire: Residents of Middletown tell harrowing survival tales

Copyright © 2017, Hoy Los Angeles, una publicación de Los Angeles Times Media Group

Updates

6:27 p.m. The story was updated with information that the hot springs retreat burned down.

The story was first published at 6:00 p.m.

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