Valley Fire victim identified as 72-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis

ByCornell Barnard KGO logo
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Valley Fire victim ID'd as woman with multiple sclerosis
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Cal Fire has identified a woman killed in the fast-moving Valley Fire as a 72-year-old Anderson Springs resident. They say Barbara McWilliams suffered from multiple sclerosis and couldn't leave on her own.

ANDERSON SPRINGS, Calif. -- The fast-moving Valley Fire that's burning across three Bay Area counties claimed the life of a 72-year-old woman. Cal Fire says they were unable to save her from the fire Saturday night.

The woman, Barbara McWilliams, is the only confirmed fatality so far in the Valley Fire. She suffered from multiple sclerosis and couldn't get out of her house on her own.

Deputies were dispatched to her home on Hot Springs Road in Anderson Springs near Middletown. But by the time they got there, the entire subdivision was engulfed in flames.

Along Highway 29 at the top of the mountain, less than 10 miles from Middletown, there is a CHP roadblock. It's a place of gathering frustration among fire victims.

PHOTOS: Fire crews battle massive Valley Fire

"I know that Middletown is burned down, most of it," one evacuee said.

Fellow fire victim Tyler Drew added, "There is too many people on that mountain right now. We can't turn these trailers around. We have to get through."

They have livestock to feed. And some of them might still have homes. For the others, homes along Highway 175 north of Middletown have been reduced to rubble and ruin.

"They were homes, beautiful homes," Kelseyville resident Jennifer Hittson said.

She knew the Anderson Springs neighborhood especially well. Until Saturday, she served as a caretaker for McWilliams. When Hittson left that house at 3 p.m., they both knew of the fire, but not that it would come that way.

"She's like, 'No I'm fine, it's gonna be fine,'" Hittson said. "She did not understand the magnitude of it."

By the time Hittson realized the danger and called the Lake County sheriff to evacuate her, that office was overrun with calls. They say it was too late.

"I think they kind of just wrote it off as just another person who doesn't know where their family member is. I knew she was in the house, I knew she would be stuck and had no way of getting out. I told them that. And I was told, quite bluntly, that they were busy handling evacuees and they would get to her when they could," she said.

The Lake County Sheriff's Department expressed condolences for all the fire victims Monday afternoon.

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