22nd DAA helps Napa fair during Valley Fire

DEL MAR — No sooner had the Napa County Fairgrounds Association been named an evacuation center during the Valley Fire in Northern California than officials at the Del Mar Fairgrounds were on the phone to offer help.

“Words cannot express how appreciative I am to you and your team,” Carlene Moore, chief executive officer of the Napa County Fair, wrote in a letter to Tim Fennell. “Your actions were louder than words.”

On Sept. 12, while out of town at a wedding, Moore received a call that the Calistoga facility was needed as temporary shelter for nearby Lake County residents who were told to leave their homes.

Fennell, general manager of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and his team know a thing or two about evacuation centers as the local venue was used in that capacity during the San Diego fires in 2007 and 2014.

In a report presented during the Oct. 13 board of directors meeting, Fennell said the best thing he could provide was manpower so he asked fairgrounds employees who was available to help. Trish Stiles and Sean McAvoy volunteered.

Fennell said Stiles played a key role during the 2007 wildfires and described McAvoy as a “big, strong young man.”

Becky Bartling, Del Mar’s deputy general manager, was in the area and stayed to help put together a plan, Fennell said.

“When I arrived on scene there was chaos,” Moore stated in her letter. “Becky and Trish helped me tremendously by developing a quick-action plan where we identified the greatest public safety risks and then implemented that plan within hours.

“Sean’s arrival and subsequent efforts brought support and relief to my already-weary facilities team,” she wrote. “I am honored to work in this industry and to be a part of this larger community, defined by service and support, and fostered by fairs like you.

“Yours was the first call to offer aid and assistance and the timeliness with which you were able to dispatch Becky, Trish, and Sean to us was paramount to our success and ability to serve a community in need.”

The Valley Fire, described as the third worst in state history, destroyed 1,958 structures, including 1,280 homes, 27 multifamily structures, 66 commercial properties and 585 other minor structures. Four people died and four firefighters were injured. The cause is under investigation.

The Napa facility was used as an evacuation center for 12 days, at one point housing more than 1,000 people with their pets and other small animals.

Fennell said he is always happy to help out sister fairs. “It was the right thing to do,” he added.

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