The Federal Emergency Management Agency will end operations at its two Sonoma County recovery centers this week, more than two months after setting up shop in Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley in the aftermath of the October fires.
The final day to seek assistance at FEMA’s Santa Rosa and Sonoma disaster recovery centers will be Thursday. Aid workers will shut down services at 6 p.m.
The move comes after a dramatic downturn in the number of households visiting the centers since the federal agency first opened its doors in Santa Rosa on Oct. 14 and in Sonoma at the Hanna Boys Center on Oct. 19, according to FEMA spokesman William Rukeyser.
In all, 16,608 Sonoma County households — including those deemed ineligible for aid — registered with FEMA following the wildfires, Rukeyser said. Most did so in the immediate weeks following the firestorm, with more than 3,000 seeking help at the Santa Rosa center, in the downtown Press Democrat building, and more then 2,000 visiting the one office in Sonoma, Rukeyser said.
The centers served as a physical location where anyone affected by October’s wildfires could go to ask questions or apply for financial assistance. Their presence, including lines of applicants, security guards, FEMA banners and Small Business Association signs, served as daily reminders of the fires’ toll across the county.
“At a certain point in any disaster, the foot traffic falls off considerably at the disaster recovery centers,” said Rukeyser. “That’s actually a good thing, because that means the recovery process has matured to a certain extent. So we keep an eye out on the foot traffic, and at the appropriate time we say to the community, ‘OK, this is getting to the end of this particular phase (of recovery), and we’re ready to close down.’ ”
From Dec. 15-19, the latest reporting period, just 66 customers visited the Santa Rosa center and only 20 visited the operation in Sonoma.
“The main message that we would like to get to people is: Yes, we are closing the physical center, but we are continuing to offer the same kind of information and advice through the other ways to contact us,” Rukeyser said. “Very similar types of advice continue to be available, just not in person.”
Anyone affected by October’s fires can still get help online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362.
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeaWarren.