Often, when tragedy strikes, the story begins with “it was a day just like any other day” but the day the Valley Fire raced through Lake County was not like any other day.
Saturday, September 12 felt unsettling, reminiscent of earthquake weather.
I was moving from event to event and feeling a sense of discomfort. While traveling down the Valley that late afternoon, I watched the temperature rapidly rise: 90…92…95 degrees. Hot gusts of wind whipped up dust devils on the roads and in the hills. While attending the 4-H Barbecue at Larson Family Vineyard that evening, I kept scanning the hills, on the lookout for… what?
On the way home, I heard the news: yet another fire in Lake County. This one devouring acres by the minute with strong winds carrying the flames further and further over the hills into the Valley communities, Napa County and eventually, the Geysers geothermal steam fields in Sonoma County.
For the next several days, we watched in disbelief, viewing photo after photo of scorching flames, blackened hills, leveled homes, and shelters bulging with evacuees and animals. Our hearts hurt for the individuals, the community, and the future rebuilding. But you know what else we saw? The very best of human kindness.
Social media exploded with opportunities to donate money and supplies. People were cared for at the evacuation centers and housed by strangers; animals were sheltered by public agencies and private parties. We saw neighbors saving multiple homes and public safety officers saving lives. I want to give a special shout out to the veteran’s groups in Sonoma Valley for not only organizing a successful donation drive, but for also helping displaced veterans in more private ways that are no less profound.
The destruction is almost unimaginable. Over 76,000 acres have been burned, and the fire’s wake left 1,958 structures destroyed – among those numbers is 1280 homes, 27 multifamily structures, and 66 commercial properties. More structures have been partially burned. Streets are reduced to ash and neighborhoods are lined with the scorched scars where there used to be homes.
What is incredibly remarkable is the relatively low human toll — four firefighters have been injured, and another four fatalities have been confirmed. Considering the scope and size of the Valley Fire (it is the third most destructive fire in our state’s history) the preservation of life is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of the 893 fire personnel and untold numbers of public safety officers. The low numbers are also a tribute to the people of the communities affected by the fire; their willingness to work together quite literally saved lives. The Board of Supervisors has invited fire safety personnel to attend the October 6 meeting so we may extend our gratitude in person.
On a county level, our Sonoma County Emergency Operations Center was activated almost immediately to coordinate fire response and assistance from all aspects of government operations, including lending government assistance from the CAO’s office, Sheriff’s office, General Services, Office of Emergency Services, PRMD, and Sonoma County Water Agency, among others. We owe a debt of gratitude to all of our firefighters from Sonoma County responding as part of mutual aid, and battling those blazes for over a week. Thousands of personnel remain on the ground to assist in clean up.
Still, we must remember that this is just the beginning of a very long process of rebuilding several communities. Sonoma County will continue to offer personnel to aid further disaster response efforts, provide short-term housing, expertise on long-term rebuilding efforts, and collaborate on animal rescue services and supplies. Supervisors are outreaching to state and federal elected officials to coordinate declarations of disaster and federal loans and grants. Volunteers and non-profit organizations will continue to perform outreach to provide on services and donations.
We can continue to help and carry the good will of “one” community into the coming months and even years as the Valley rebuilds. Let us remember the message below through the easier times and appreciate the display of compassion we have seen over the past weeks.
Ways to help
Donations, Services, Information:
Visit LOVE Lake County, a volunteer effort led by Sonoma County creatives with the goal of connecting donors with agencies and efforts: http://www.lovelakecounty.org/
Halter Program: The Horse and Livestock Emergency Rescue provides training, resources, emergency kits, education, and relief funds for rural communities. This program is a partnership with UC Davis and organizer Julie Atwood. Please visit www.halterfund.org for more information.
SHARE Sonoma County matches homeowners with people looking for affordable rooms to rent. Please contact Amy Appleton, Program Director at 707.766.8870 or visit sharesonomacounty.org.
Financial donations can be made to the following:
Redwood Credit Union – 100% of donations will go directly to aid victims and relief efforts:www.redwoodcu.org/lakecountyfirevictims. Or, make a check payable to Redwood Credit Union and mail to: RCU Lake County Fire Relief, c/o Redwood Credit Union, P.O. Box 6104, Santa Rosa, CA 95406.
American Red Cross at redcross.org/donate.
Lake County Assistance Center: Distributes funds to assist victims of the Lake County fires, visit lakecountylac.com.
United Way of the Wine Country: Donate online at volunteer.truist.com/uwwc-2/donate. Or, mail your donation to: United Way of the Wine Country, 975 Corporate Center Parkway, Suite 160 Santa Rosa, CA 95407.
Wine Country Animal Lovers: Wine Country Animal Lovers (WCAL) – a 501(c)3 non-profit animal rescue serving the upper Napa Valley and Lake County: winecountryanimallovers.org.