Where to begin…
We knew this would happen. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a major wildfire ripped through our community. What is surprising is the vastness of it. As Bob Norrbom, battalion chief for Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue said, any one of these fire events would have required all the resources in the county, and we had four or more enormous fires burning at the same time. That more people didn’t die is amazing, considering the fires broke out while most of us were asleep. Neighbors woke up neighbors, calling them or pounding on doors to wake them up. Sheriff deputies drove up driveways telling people to evacuate. No one was sure which way to go, and yet almost everyone got to safety that chaotic night.
Our communities are changed now, possibly forever changed. The most immediate concerns are housing, the environment, and our mental health.
We were already in a housing crunch, with very low vacancy rates and very high rents. Now the situation is critical. We urge anyone with a vacation rental to consider switching over to long-term leases of one year or more. Our goal should be to keep as many people housed within our community as possible. Moving is a stressful experience even when you choose to do it. But to be forced to move away from all you know and love after this kind of a trauma is much worse. Let’s all open our homes and our hearts, and be willing to put up with some crowding for a while. We may have to negotiate new house rules, but we can make it work.
Our environment is a mess, and it’s going to take a while to clean everything up. Burned out home sites have to be scraped off and the debris hauled away. Where all that is going to go is another huge question. People are going to have to be patient, and that’s a big ask. At the same time, the parklands and forests are full of dead trees and burned out areas that could turn into rivers of mud once the rainy season begins. There is much work to do, and there will be many opportunities to volunteer down the line.
A disaster of this proportion affects us all, and even the most resilient person will be experiencing some post-traumatic stress. Don’t ignore your feelings. You may be sad, you may be numb, you may be unable to focus, or you may think you’re holding up just fine. But don’t be afraid to ask for help. NAMI Sonoma County (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has a warm line, staffed Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call them at 866-960-6264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just get together and talk to your friends, because if there’s one thing that will help right now, it’s community. You are not alone; we’re all going through this together. In the long run, a shared experience like these fires will make us a stronger, more tight-knit community. In the short run, it may be the precipitating factor for some people to leave and start over somewhere else. That’s perfectly understandable, but it doesn’t make us miss them any less. Again, change is coming…
So put on your mantle of resiliency and patience. You’re going to need both. This was one of the most beautiful, warm, loving, fun places to live before the fire, and it will be that way again. The fields and forests will regenerate, grass will grow, flowers will bloom, new homes will rise, new jobs will materialize. There are so many aspects to the fire recovery efforts, and the Kenwood Press will be covering this story for a long time to come. Feel free to call or email us with any fire-related story ideas or news tips. We’re going to be here for the long haul.
Stay Sonoma Strong!
– Alec and Ann