I have been very saddened by the loss of life, the many acres of forest and vineyards burnt, and the many structures lost. As of this writing 35 died, 5,700 structures lost and 182,000 acres burned in Solano, Butte, Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Mendocino, Lake counties. And on the publish date of this article (14-October-2017) the fires are still happening.
I think most everyone including myself didn’t think of fire danger this year because of the record rainfall earlier this year. But because of heavy rainfall brush, grass and other vegetation grew robustly and hence became problematic. I was just in Sonoma three week ago–my visit was centred on Sonoma and stayed at a very nice AirBNB in Glen Ellen. The last thing I was thinking of was any fire danger. I, of course, observed the yellow hill sides which are common this time of year throughout Northern California wine countries but I only took it as an annual occurrence.
The aggressiveness and the scale of the fire in population-centred areas which made this an agonizing experience for those people in those areas as well as those who have family and friends in the affected areas. These groups of fires seemed to be unusually aggressive and like all fires unpredictable.
It was exceptionally difficult to know the status of the fires and the people that I know in both Napa and Sonoma If I was depending on social media to let me know how people I know were doing it was a very difficult tool to rely on solely. When I didn’t hear from someone I started to wonder if thing were okay. I have been trying not to ping someone who might be in throes of evacuation.
I plugged into the traditional media of both radio and broadcast news. And comments I heard caller comments on KQED the following themes: 1) not having either information or specific/helpful information and 2) Why weren’t evacuation zones established earlier or larger. The callers were expressing frustration with not knowing of specific actions that they should or should not take. Given the death toll many people were, of course, on edge not knowing when or if to expect anything.
I hope that the Lessons Learned from this series of fires culminates in improvements so losses can be lessened in the future. I think what was lacking was enough information on particularly vulnerable populations like the elderly. Perhaps a partnership of private non-profit along with first responders can be better prepared to help the elderly. The elderly were particularly vulnerable and the numbers of those that perished document that.
And I hope technology can help to minimize the losses experienced in these fires; perhaps better use of satellite imagery and official drones to monitor the affected areas can better inform and give needed status of fire areas.
I was glad to see that 75 horses from a refuge farm survived along with the Safari West animals. I was deeply saddened by the reports of many animals who also perished. A story that struck me was the Bernese breeder who lost her dogs and puppies: so heart breaking.
The stories of the Carmen Berrez dying in the arms of her husband Armando–they sought safety in houses swimming pool–was a truly sad and heartbreaking story. Fourteen year old Kai Sheppard died trying to outrun fire in Redwood Valley fire another very heartbreaking story.
KQED radio was a centring source of information as well as grounding of information and perspectives. While I have no doubt there will be a rebuild of many structures and the resiliency of Northern California will be there. Many lives will be forever changed. It is not just the will to rebuilt it is what will the environment be like to rebuild in. Challenges will be a change in code, city-county approvals, cost of rebuilding and having adequate funds to rebuild amongst just a few considerations.
Things will no doubt be different especially in the short term but I think that will extend to the long term. My hope for the long term is that future fires will be lessened and that losses are also lessened, better evacuation procedures and systems and processes for ensuing a maximum number of lives are saved. I hope there is a great effort of private non-profit organizations, first responders and governments can create a durable plan for future needs as well as implementing technology for better awareness.
If you want to help here are some suggested non-profits:
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