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Sonoma County supervisors seek to expedite fire recovery

The Tubbs fire decimated the Parker Hill area of Santa Rosa. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

J.D. MORRIS,

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday sought to expedite efforts to control the widespread damage wrought by historically destructive wildfires burning in the region, empowering workers to more easily remove charred debris and dangerous vegetation blocking roadways.

Supervisors unanimously declared a local health emergency, requested state assistance to remove the vast amount of debris generated by the fires and allowed crews to bypass certain restrictions so they can quickly remove burned vegetation from public right-of-ways.

The actions came one week after supervisors ratified a local state of emergency days after the devastating firestorm broke out. The board has further waived permit fees related to repair and reconstruction work on fire-damaged structures that were already permitted by the county.

Tuesday’s meeting, held in Windsor because the county government complex in Santa Rosa is closed due to the fires, allowed supervisors to receive a broad update on the status of the fires as well. The most destructive blaze, the Tubbs fire, was at 82 percent containment Tuesday morning, and firefighters have made major progress over the other blazes as well.

“We’ve been tested before, and we now know what we’re made of,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the board chairwoman. “We had thousands of people who’ve been evacuated and while many have returned, many still have not. They’re sleeping on couches and carpets and cots, in their cars, and they wait anxiously.”

A disaster such as the Northern California firestorm is not only a “great unifier” but also a “great social equalizer,” Zane said, noting that flames destroyed the homes of poor, middle class and wealthy residents. Many of those residents were among the county’s own workforce: officials said Tuesday 121 county employees lost their homes. In total, the county has more than 4,000 employees.

As of Monday night, nearly 1,600 people had been served at the local assistance center in Santa Rosa, said Susan Klassen, the county’s former transportation and public works director who is helping lead recovery efforts. A more pared-down intake center is opening Tuesday in the Sonoma Valley, she said.

“The work is just beginning on recovery and rebuilding,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who lost her Oakmont home in the fires. “We are going through this together.”

Gorin said the county’s protracted housing crisis was “very real” already but has “just been exploded” by thousands of people who were affected by the fires.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.