Sonoma County seeks the routine to cope with crisis

North Coast residents seek normalcy as a way of enduring crisis.|

As the North Coast struggles through its worst recorded natural disaster, many local residents search for sanity in the rituals of everyday life.

For Brad Silvestro and his wife Shelle Schiffbauer, who lost their Rincon Valley home on Deer Trail Road last Monday morning, it means buying a pair of work boots, using an office to send a fax or attending a yoga class.

“We just kind of figure out what two or three things can we do today to move forward in the process,” Silvestro said. “The only way to move forward is to try to establish some kind of normalcy and recreate a routine.”

Thursday, Silvestro, a paramedic with Sonoma Life Support, and his wife, a Kaiser Permanente nurse, ordered new uniforms to replace the ones he lost in the firestorm, ordered new checks at the bank and opened a post office box.

“That was about all we could handle for the day,” Silvestro said. “Everything we need to do, like go to the post office, you run into a huge line. In normal times, something that would take 15 minutes takes an hour or more.”

These, however, are not normal times. The Tubbs fire has killed at least 19 people in Santa Rosa and destroyed nearly 5 percent of the city’s housing stock. Schools are closed, businesses ruined, lives upended.

The couple had evacuated their home at 1:30 a.m. Monday as flames rushed down Wallace Road from Riebli Road, in the northwest corner of Rincon Valley. Fifty-mph winds flung embers and flames like a giant “blow torch,” Silvestro said. They only had time to pack a bag of T-shirts, pants, socks and underwear, and a box with birth certificates and passports.

Dr. Jennifer MacLeamy, a psychologist for the Petaluma Health Center, said the routines dominating daily lives are crucial during crisis.

“These abnormal events can trigger an acute stress reaction which over time can turn into longer lasting mental health issues,” MacLeamy said. “Anything people can do to get back to their normal routine as quickly as possible will go miles toward restoring that sense of normalcy and control over your life.”

She said normal structures and routines are particularly important for children, such as family rules, chores and established bedtimes.

“It’s pretty intense to think about how much change these kids are going through right now,” she said. “People need boundaries to feel safe and one of the things about natural disasters is our normal routines and boundaries are completely disrupted.”

Silvestro and Schiffbauer agree. He desperately wants to get back to work as a first-responder; he finds refuge in helping others.

Sonoma State University professor Laura Watt found a bit of the mundane this week tagging along with a friend she’s staying with, walking his dog. Watt, an environmental historian with the college’s department of geography, environment and planning, has been under mandatory evacuation from her home on Eagle Ridge Road, off Lichau Drive, northeast of Penngrove.

She was on her way home from a trip to Iceland when the firestorm hit Monday morning. Tuesday she drove up from San Francisco to visit her home and grab a few belongings and one of her cats she was able to catch. Two others are still at her property.

Watt said it’s difficult to maintain any normal routine now, with Sonoma State closed at least until Oct. 17. She spends her days on Facebook, looking at fire and weather maps and checking in with family members from outside the area. She’s emailed her students telling them not to worry about their immediate assignments.

“Yesterday, my friend and I took his dog for a walk around the neighborhood,” she said. “We got some burritos from the local corner shop - in that sense, I’m trying to calm down a little.”

MacLeamy, the Petaluma Health Center psychologist, said her organization will be starting daily groups next week for parents and children who have been impacted by the wildfires. The classes, called Parenting through Crisis, are aimed at giving parents the parenting tools they need and the coping skills kids require, she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213.

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