1st anniversary of Northern California wildfires has North Bay businesses planning observances

Memory of how the wildfires affected your business?

North Bay Business is collecting stories from businesses in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Mendocino, Lake, Solano and Napa counties about how employees and employers have been adjusting. Contact Cheryl Sarfaty about your memories: Submit them by Friday, Sept. 28.

With the first-year anniversary of October’s wildfires just two weeks away, North Bay business leaders are thinking about how to acknowledge the day.

Some have planned activities for their employees, others are quietly remembering the day, while still others are looking at Oct. 8, 2018, as another day in an ongoing healing process.

Keysight Technologies, the largest high-tech company in Sonoma County whose Fountaingrove headquarters in Santa Rosa sustained damage from the firestorm, plans to commemorate the one-year anniversary in a subdued fashion.

“It’s going to be a very low-key type of event,” said Hamish Gray, senior vice president, Corporate Services at Keysight.

Plans are still being finalized, but Gray said most likely Ron Nersesian, president and CEO, will hold a ceremony at the entrance of the Fountaingrove facility with the planting of a tree and placing of a commemorative plaque.

Repairs to Keysight’s Fountaingrove facilities are complete and all of its Santa Rosa-based employees were back on-site as of late July, Gray said.

Medtronic, which has two Santa Rosa locations - one in Fountaingrove and another on Brickway Blvd. - has planned an array of healing and disaster-preparedness activities throughout the week of Oct. 8 for its nearly 1,000 area employees, of which 52 lost their homes in the wildfires, according to Jason Weidman, senior vice president and president of the Aortic, Peripheral and Venous business at Medtronic.

The Minneapolis-based medical-device company’s Fountaingrove facility sustained minimal damage from the fires and was closed for about four weeks, while the Brickway location remained open, Weidman said.

Medtronic’s one-year anniversary activities on Monday, Oct. 8, and Tuesday, Oct. 9, will focus around healing, with offerings to include yoga, art therapy classes and a session on how to parent a child who’s been through trauma.

Wednesday, Oct. 10, and Thursday, Oct. 11, will be devoted to resiliency and disaster preparedness, with CPR classes and education on how to prepare for natural disasters in the future.

On Friday, Oct. 12, Medtronic will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at its Fountaingrove site with Habitat for Humanity. The nonprofit organization plans to build up to 10 temporary homes on approximately 2 acres of land donated by the medical-device maker.

The homes, which will house low-income fire survivors, are part of a demonstration village that uses experimental building techniques designed to be cost effective, efficient and resilient, with the goal of getting housing up quickly in the event of future natural disasters.

The weeklong activities are an extension of the work of Medtronic’s Humanitarian Care Team, which formed shortly after the fires both to help its employees and the community, Weidman said.

“I think it’s important to note everybody’s reaction to this (anniversary) is going to be different,” he said, which is why Medtronic is providing a variety of optional activities during the week.

Though he hasn’t heard specifically of anyone not wishing to participate in the activities, Weidman said he expects there will be some and that is “completely OK.”

Laura Marra, an 11-year Medtronic employee who serves as executive assistant to Weidman, wasn’t directly impacted by the fires but was on the front lines supporting her co-workers who did suffer loss. She also helped plan the weeklong activities.

“We have really tailored a week that offers support to all employees,” Marra said. “We’re doing some education (about) disaster preparedness … some emotional and therapeutic wellbeing activities, and we’re also offering an opportunity for all employees to come together and engage in activities.”

Robert Mosby, a psychologist and president of Santa Rosa-based PsychStrategies, noted some businesses will choose not to commemorate the one-year mark of the wildfires, and those that do move forward with plans would be well-served to proceed with sensitivity.

“The best way is to ask employees what they need rather than guessing at it,” said Mosby, one of seven therapists who provide a wide range of psychological services to Sonoma County.

PsychStrategies’ therapists, including Mosby, have counseled at least 150 fire survivors, according to the company.

Santa Rosa-based Exchange Bank has chosen to acknowledge the one-year anniversary in-house, according to Carolyn Cole-Schweizer, corporate communications and social media specialist for the bank.

“On the anniversary of the fire, we will be supportive and respectful of the emotions of Exchange Bank’s 22 employees who lost their homes on October 9,” she said. “No specific activities have been scheduled at this time.”

Memory of how the wildfires affected your business?

North Bay Business is collecting stories from businesses in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Mendocino, Lake, Solano and Napa counties about how employees and employers have been adjusting. Contact Cheryl Sarfaty about your memories: Submit them by Friday, Sept. 28.

Redwood Credit Union, in partnership with the office of Sen. Mike McGuire and The Press Democrat (a sister newspaper of the Business Journal, owned by Sonoma Media Investments), participated in the creation of the North Bay Fire Relief Fund.

It does have an event planned on Oct. 8 for its employees. However, the activity isn’t about commemorating the fires - though it’s somewhat related, said Brett ?Martinez, CEO of RCU.

“Last year, RCU had an all-employee retreat scheduled for Monday, October 9, designed to motivate and inspire our employees and thank them for all they do for our members and communities,” Martinez said. “When the fires broke out the night of October 8, we had to cancel the event … Our leadership and senior staff contacted our staff in the middle of the night to let them know the event was off, and to provide whatever support our employees needed.

“This year, we are planning to hold our all-employee “Day of Inspiration” event as scheduled on Monday, October 8 – not as a way to commemorate the fires, but as a fitting time to thank and inspire our employees,” he said.

Jackson Family Wines has chosen not to memorialize the day, but rather continue its ongoing efforts to help its 24 employees who lost their homes in the wildfires, said Caroline Shaw, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at the winery.

“We have been actively supporting our employees throughout the past year, from the immediate day of, to monthly check-ins with our team, and making sure we’re providing all their needs,” Shaw said.

Like Medtronic, Jackson Family Wines is involved in a housing project, called Homes for Sonoma.

“In short, we’re a group of local leaders who came together after the October wildfires to provide temporary housing to those most in need,” Shaw said. Homes for Sonoma, which received a $100,000 donation from the North Bay Fire Relief Fund, includes a plan to create a long-term sustainable strategy, according to the organization’s website.

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at or 707-521-4259.

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