Thanksgiving takes on new meaning in community devastated by Valley Fire

Wayne Freedman Image
ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Friday, November 27, 2015
Giving thanks in fire-ravaged Middletown takes on new meaning
It's a special Thanksgiving for families affected by the Valley Fire in Napa and Lake counties.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- It's a special Thanksgiving for families affected by the Valley Fire in Napa and Lake counties.

There are as many definitions for Thanksgiving as people celebrating the holiday. But imagine this day in Middletown, Calif. where last September's fire killed four people and destroyed 585 homes -- and yet there is thanks there as well.

By the time the community dinner at the Twin Pine Casino ends at 6 p.m. they will have served more than 300 people some 44 turkeys, some of them victims and everyone connected.

PHOTOS: Crews battle devastating Valley Fire

Happy Thanksgiving, the most spoken words of the day anywhere across the country and certainly no more heartfelt than in Middletown in a hall at a casino with turkey, friends and survivors.

Fletcher Thornton is a volunteer despite the fact that at 76 years old he is homeless for the first time in his life. In Middletown, fire victims have plenty of company. "Everyone here is special and nobody is above helping," Thornton said.

Christy Lichtendahl and her young son Charlie went out for a walk through ruins and stared at her what used to her home.

PHOTOS: ABC7 News reporters at the Valley Fire

"I was looking at my lot, trying to see if there is hope there." When asked by ABC7 News if she found hope she said, "I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet."

Just like the fire, Thanksgiving in Middletown has become a shared experience. There, fortune is relative and ever-changing. Dennis Pennell and his family measure it by living in a home surrounded by ruins.

"We know how fortunate we are," Dennis Pennell said.

Somehow it survived, allowing Kathie Pennell to slave away in the kitchen Thursday. It has never been such a pleasure to have this, especially with so many neighbors whose homes no longer exist.

"I wish I could invite them all to dinner. I can't even imagine," Kathie Pennell said.

In Middletown, Thanksgiving this year is a matter of relativity; it depends on where you were, how you fared in the fire. When the Pennell's left that night, they looked back and thought they'd never see their home again.

"Coming back, you know seeing the wreckage, it just the smelled charred. But we were so blessed, so glad to be home," Dennis Pennell said.

Click here to see our full coverage on the Valley Fire