PD Editorial: 2 years later, Sonoma County is still recovering

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Some dates are destined to be remembered. Americans celebrate independence on July 4, and commemorate lives lost at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 and in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11.

For residents of Sonoma County, Oct. 9 is one of those unforgettable dates.

When the sun rose on this date in 2017, entire neighborhoods had been incinerated overnight in a firestorm that killed two dozen people and displaced thousands more.

With fires still burning, and the sky darkened by smoke, it was hard to imagine how or when our community would return to normal.

Two years have passed, and the recovery is far from complete. Yet progress can be seen across the county.

Families are returning daily to the areas hit hardest by the Tubbs and Nuns fires — Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, Larkfield-Wikiup, Mark West, Bennett Valley and Sonoma Valley. Construction crews arrive at dawn to resume work on new homes. Many of the businesses that were damaged or destroyed are open again.

Classes are in session at schools and community centers that sheltered evacuees, and a newly dedicated memorial at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts will be a lasting tribute to those who lost their lives.

But the ripple effects of the disastrous fires are never far away.

Many people are coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional scars. The financial fallout also continues. The fires exposed widespread underinsurance, and potential damages pushed PG&E into bankruptcy. For victims who haven’t been able to rebuild within 24 months, coverage for temporary replacement housing is running out. Meanwhile, insurers are raising rates or outright canceling homeowners’ policies at record rates in high-risk areas.

Emergency service agencies are trying to identify safe evacuation routes and figure out how to make timely notifications in the event of a future disaster.

And all of us are living with the prospect of preemptive power outages when weather conditions increase the risk of wildfires.

Indeed, as of Tuesday afternoon, PG&E was planning to cut off power to as many as 800,000 people in 34 counties across Northern and Central California.

Here in Sonoma County, a precautionary blackout — the second in a week — could affect 262,000 residents.

In some areas, the outages could last several days, closing schools and cutting off services, including ATM machines and gas pumps.

On the night of the fires, with flames surfing across treetops and rooftops and first responders spread thin, many people stopped to wake their neighbors before fleeing. Without these unsung heroes, more people would have died. Still others showed up to volunteer at evacuation centers.

The post-fire recovery has benefited from the same sort of grassroots participation, led by groups such as Coffey Strong and Larkfield Strong.

If, as it appears, the second anniversary of the fires will be accompanied by a public safety power outage, be aware of neighbors, especially seniors and those with disabilities or medical conditions, who may need assistance. PG&E plans to provide resources for affected residents at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building. For information, dial 211. Leave 911 lines clear for emergencies. Let’s not have another Oct. 9 tragedy.

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