Susan Gorin strode through an empty patch of dirt atop a hill in Santa Rosa’s Oakmont retirement community on a recent morning.
Behind her, a group of blackened trees bore obvious signs of where the Nuns fire burned through Trione-Annadel State Park nearly one year earlier. Ahead of Gorin, a two-term Sonoma County supervisor, the Valley of the Moon unfolded in the distance, a stunning view she fell in love with when she moved to the site more than five years ago.
But Gorin doesn’t live there anymore. Her home is gone, one of only two in the city destroyed by the Nuns fire.
“Welcome to my house,” she said, gesturing to the dirt around her with a chuckle.
There was the front door, said the former Santa Rosa mayor. There was the garage, the kitchen, the living room, the dining room and master bedroom.
Years ago, the first morning Gorin woke up at the house, she looked out her bedroom window and saw turkey vultures soaring overhead.
“I went, ‘I’m in heaven,’ ” she recalled.
Gorin, 66, and her husband, Joe, left their home for the last time when they traveled to Colorado to await the birth of their grandchild shortly before the North Bay wildfires ignited Oct. 8. Two days later, flames destroyed their Oakmont home.
The loss, combined with Gorin’s duties as an elected official, put her in the unusual position of forging ahead as a fire survivor while simultaneously governing the county’s recovery from an unprecedented disaster. She has tried to keep the two roles separate. But her personal experience has, over the past year, informed and colored her public role representing the county’s 1st District, including the fire-scarred communities of Glen Ellen and Kenwood and the greater Sonoma Valley.
“I’ve tried to put my personal loss on the back burner and really not talk about my experience a lot,” Gorin said. “I have tried really hard to put my emotions on the back burner (too) so that I’m not really dwelling on what I’ve lost, how difficult it is to rebuild. But I use that experience.”
Within Sonoma County government’s workforce of 4,000 people, about 140 lost their homes in the wildfires. Gorin is the only member of the Board of Supervisors on that list and one of only a trio of elected officials countywide to lose homes in the fires.
Her district director, Pat Gilardi, lost a home in Coffey Park that she and her husband were renting to another family.
“Susan and I compare a lot of notes,” Gilardi said. “Everything’s the same, except that I don’t have the trauma of losing a lifetime of history, and that’s huge.”
Gorin and Gilardi said their shared understanding of what it means to have lost a home last year has been useful when helping county officials communicate with fire survivors.
Michael Gossman, the deputy county administrator who leads the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, agreed.
“I’m not experiencing the whole insurance situation, so to understand the path that they have to go through to get insurance money and to get that taken care of is really helpful for how we can develop our programs,” Gossman said.
Read all of the PD’s fire anniversary coverage here