Chris Smith: Who’s on your mind, in your heart, one year after the fires?

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Light normally dispels nightmares. But when dawn broke exactly one year ago — on Oct. 9, 2017 — it revealed in Sonoma County and throughout vast regions all around a terror from which there was no waking.

Tuesday is a day for remembering and for honoring, and for recharging our resolve to stay engaged in the great recovery and to be vigilant against any survivors being excluded.

Ideally, sirens would sound to mark the onset of a communal period of silence. Instead, we can make time individually or in clusters to be still and allow whatever it is, a year after the historically ruinous firestorms, to percolate into our thoughts.

We might also pay silent tribute to all who perished in the fires. And to everyone who loved and misses them.

We might be mindful of all of our neighbors who, a short year later, remain haunted or distressed or in excruciating uncertainty.

We might ponder all of the people who risked their lives to save others. And all of the many who stepped up in the hours and days and weeks and months after the fires to comfort and serve and assist.

Many have never been acknowledged, and perhaps never will be. If you did anything, great or small, on behalf of fellow human beings or animals, thank you.

Much has been said of the valor and sacrifices of first responders, but we’re unlikely ever to grasp what so many of them endured a year ago.

Firefighters charged with defending a city or district fought to exhaustion and beyond to save lives and property besieged by a yellow-orange monster the likes of which they’d never seen. Some had plentiful cause to worry about their own families and homes; some sensed at the worst moments that they would not make it home.

We might contemplate the sheriff’s deputies, California Highway Patrol officers, city police officers, park rangers and others in law enforcement who rushed in with vicious wind and flames in their faces. They rescued people and they witnessed horrors and feared fears we wouldn’t care to imagine.

A year after the fires of October 2017, we have much to mourn, much to be grateful for and much about which to remain deeply concerned.

A moment of silent reflection will be good. Then it’s back to work to assure that the rebuild is just as expedient and wise and inclusive as it can be.


TREY BOX and his large family lost their home off Riebli Road that night a year ago.

A short time back Box, the student ministry pastor at the church called The Bridge, was among several dozen people given a taste of homelessness by the Redwood Gospel Mission.

For “24 In a Car,” Box and the others slept in their cars, took part in a scavenger hunt for unlocked bathrooms, bus tickets and other essentials, and talked to people who know well how scary and miserable it is to live out in the open.

“It was a real eye-opener,” Box said. It was especially moving for him when Gospel Mission chief Jeff Gilman shared this from poet William Blake: “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.”

Box said he and his kin were OK when their home burned because they were taken in by people close to them. He no longer perceives that the main thing amiss from the lives of people on the streets is a roof.

You can contact columnist Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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