Making an arduous journey through miles of traffic and passing through a terrain of burned cars in a charred landscape, food-truck vendors from Palo Alto, along with representatives from the City of Palo Alto and Stanford Federal Credit Union, arrived to feed the victims of the Middletown fire on Monday, Sept. 28.
The five food-truck vendors are the latest local group to arrive in the devastated Northern California wildfire areas with the goal to aid fire victims, many of whom lost their homes. The vendors were preceded by crews from Palo Alto Utilities, who helped restore power where major transmission lines and power generators were severely damaged, and Palo Alto firefighters who fought the blazes.
The food-truck contingent served up free meals starting at noon, and they'll continue throughout the day until the food is gone, said Stanford Federal Credit Union spokeswoman Margaret Wold, who was on scene. The credit union is funding $12,000 for vendors' transportation and food costs, which will feed about 1,000 people, she said.
Red Rooster, Adam's Grub Truck, Sam's Chowder, Curry Up Now and 3 Brothers Kitchen are offering Mexican, Asian-American fusion, seafood, Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine to victims, relief workers and volunteers. The one-day effort is being coordinated with Lake County and the American Red Cross.
Simon Williams, Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services GIS administration specialist, conceived the idea and was also in Middletown on Monday. Within days of the Valley Fire, he was able to secure the funding and trucks and coordinated with the relief agencies.
"By combining forces we can make a stronger impact and help more people at one time. Individually these food trucks felt they could do little to help, as travel and gas costs alone are extremely costly. However, with the support of the Credit Union and the strike team plan, we are able to pull together to help the community at large," Williams said in a statement through the Red Cross.
Viet Nguyen of 3 Brothers Kitchen was the first to arrive on scene at the Lake County Local Assistance Center in Middletown at about 11:30 a.m. His truck is serving curried chicken, banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) and a shrimp fry, among other Southeast Asian dishes.
The three-hour commute through often heavy traffic is worth the effort, he said. Along the way, he and the other vendors glimpsed the devastation: charred hillsides.
"We knew that we are definitely here for a cause and for the right cause," Nguyen said.
The Valley Fire is the third largest in California history, with more than 76,000 acres burned and nearly 2,000 structures destroyed, including 1,200 homes, according to the Red Cross.
Combined with the Butte Fire, more than 200 square miles have burned. To put that in perspective, Palo Alto is 26 square miles, noted Catherine Elvert, Palo Alto Utilities spokeswoman, whose department sent a crew on Sept. 24.
The fires have damaged some of the power plants, major electric transmission and distribution lines and generating facilities that supply power to Palo Alto. The utilities belong to the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA), a nonprofit joint powers agency representing 15 cities and their power-supply needs, including Palo Alto, she said.
The city did not experience any power disruption because of the damaged facilities, Elvert noted. Palo Alto manages a diverse energy portfolio, and it was able to tap into other sources to make up for any losses from the damaged facilities.
Five staff members from Electric Operations, including a supervisor, departed on Sept. 23 for Healdsburg, where they were framing and setting poles to allow restringing electric wire. The crews returned today from the Geysers area shortly before lunchtime and were sent home to rest, she said.
The Palo Alto Fire Department also sent two fire engines and crews as part of two separate Santa Clara County strike teams to help battle the Butte and Valley fires earlier in September.
The crews worked 24-hour rotations to help contain the blazes, searched for missing persons and protected homes, Elvert said. The department used off-duty firefighters and reserve fire engines to fill in for the departed crew members, which ensured smooth operations for Palo Alto and Stanford University.
In Middletown, Wold said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived on Monday to start issuing checks so that people can rebuild their lives, and that seems to be helping morale. Despite their losses, it's apparent the community is tight, she said.
"Under the circumstances, the people are uplifting. It's like, 'OK. Let's move on; let's move forward.' ... They're keeping their chins up," she said.