As we reach the six-month anniversary of the fires that devastated our community, it is important to recognize how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.
Nature is resilient, and the dark scars on our hillsides are becoming swathed in the fresh green of spring. Lots that months ago were full of blackened debris are now smooth and clean and empty — the perfect illustration of the progress we’ve made and what is still missing: the people who lived in the home that is now a clean slate. Perhaps it is fitting that this anniversary coincides with spring, the time of rebirth and renewal. Those of us who lost our homes in the October fires are all at different places on our recovery journeys, we can all take some inspiration from nature and the new growth that surrounds us.
We are beginning to see the transition from response to recovery. At the county, the Joint Information Center which served as the physical source for multiagency coordination and information during the fires has wound down, and opening in its place the new Office of Recovery and Resiliency. This new office will be public facing, tasked with helping our community rebuild in the short term. It will also take the lead on planning for the future around issues like redundant emergency alerts and will create a five-year plan to ensure we are prepared for fires, floods, earthquakes or any other disaster.
As your County Supervisor I want to assure you that my office is working through this with you, and want to make sure you have access to up-to-date information. I am hosting two Neighborhood Meetings, one in the Sonoma Valley on April 11 and one in Rincon Valley on April 16. These meetings will be an opportunity for fire survivors to get information and talk with representatives from the county permitting department, mental health providers, insurance and architecture experts, as well as share your experiences and concerns with my office.
I’d also like to announce that we are organizing Neighborhood Captains for Nuns fire survivors and 1st District Tubbs fire survivors. There is already a successful Neighborhood Captain program in the 4th District, which encompasses northern Sonoma County, including the neighborhoods of Coffey Park, Larkfield and Mark West Springs.
Neighborhood Captains act as a conduit of information between County staff and the neighborhoods they represent — they have an opportunity to troubleshoot issues that come up and get direct answers to questions they encounter through the recovery and rebuilding process, and share this information with their neighborhood. In addition, county staff has been able to learn a great deal about the community’s needs and better serve residents throughout the county by attending Neighborhood Captain meetings. The Neighborhood Captains concept is not only a practical idea to help with resource and information sharing, it also can serve to remind us all that we are not alone in this.
The further we get away from those first harrowing days, it is important to remember to take care of ourselves and each other mentally and emotionally. Our lives didn’t stop just because we lost our homes — we have to deal with the same stresses, issues and difficulties that we had on Oct. 1, along with struggling through a process that none of us chose. We didn’t decide to go through the process of building a home from the ground up, but here we are. Let’s be kind to ourselves and each other. Recovery takes time. And, like, the hills around us we will all heal and blossom.