Sonoma Valley residents affected by the October fires were told Tuesday night at a “Recovery & Rebuilding Town Hall” not to give up, even if their damage claims have been rejected by the federal government.
As part of a 10-member panel of federal, state and local officials, FEMA Deputy Operations Director Robert Pesapane told the audience of about 40 people at the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building that the federal government had already provided Sonoma County fire victims with $14.8 million in direct assistance for housing costs and vehicle losses and other needs.
“If you were denied don’t take that as the final answer,” he said. People can become eligible for FEMA assistance if they find they are underinsured.
Persistence is also the key when dealing with private insurance, said Joel Laucher, the chief deputy commissioner with the state Department of Insurance.
“Dealing with insurers is a matter patience and perseverance,” Laucher said. “You may have anger and that may be understandable.”
He encouraged fire victims having trouble with their insurance companies to contact his department to help speed up the process.
Randon States, who lost his home on Cavedale Road to the Nuns fire, skipped President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to attend the town hall.
“There’s a lot I don’t know so I come to meetings like this to learn,” Randon said afterward.
The ruins of his “home in the woods” on a property he has lived on for four decades have yet to be cleared, but he was not frustrated.
“I feel like everything is progressing the way it should,” he said.
Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, who convened the panel that also included Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, California Office of Emergency Services Regional Administrator Jodi Traversaro and others, said he was satisfied with the progress federal, state and local partnerships have made in the recovery effort.
“We’re not going to celebrate yet, but if during the fire you thought we’d be this far along in the cleanup now, people would be amazed,” Dodd said.
Traversaro said the state Office of Emergency Services already has provided the maximum $10,000 in financial assistance to eligible individuals and households, a total to date of $450,000.
While some timelines may have shifted, the cleanup process continues throughout the county.
While 55 percent of fire-damaged lots have been cleared in Sonoma County, only 86 of 429 parcels have been cleared in the Sonoma Valley, Pesapane said. Full cleanup isn’t expected until March.
After the meeting, Gorin, who lost her Oakmont home to the Nuns fire, said she was frustrated with the delays in cleanup, with expected timelines from December to March, but did note the scale of the fire damage created logistical issues for federal disaster managers.
So far, 850,000 tons of debris have been taken from 2,100 properties in Sonoma County, Army Corps of Engineers Col. Eric McFadden said. He told the crowd around 1.2 million tons of debris has been pulled off fire damaged properties in Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties.
States said he misses the peace and quiet of the mountains but understands it will be about two years before he moves back. But living in the city of Sonoma allows him to do things he hadn’t been able to do before, like walk a few blocks down the street to have an evening drink at the Sonoma Plaza.