Sonoma County leaders in fire recovery and response share their year-end outlook
Press Democrat reporters spoke this month with three civic leaders who have helped steer disaster response and recovery in our region. A common thread in their comments: the enormous challenges laid down by wildfires since 2017, the progress made to get survivors back on their feet, and the work still to be done to ensure residents and first responders are prepared for future emergencies. Here are excerpts of the three interviews, edited for clarity and brevity.
Shana Jones, 51, has been the chief of Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit since May 2016. As chief, Jones oversees more than 500 employees at the peak of fire season in Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Yolo, Colusa and Solano counties. The new year marks her 20th working for Cal Fire. Here, she reflects on the toll the past few years have had on her crews and looks ahead to next fire season. (Interviewed by Chantelle Lee)
Press Democrat: Were there any new challenges you had to deal with this year during the Kincade fire?
Jones: The evacuations — that was a very large amount of folks that were evacuated. That was a challenging piece.
This fire — it was very different from 2017 because of the timing, so we had a little bit more time to evacuate people. ... It was very difficult making that decision, but I strongly believe that we did the right thing to ensure the safety of the public so that our firefighters could do their jobs by protecting their homes.
PD: Over the past few years, we’ve seen some really challenging and devastating fires in the North Bay. What kind of toll has that taken on your firefighters?
Jones: Our fires have gotten larger over these past several years, which means that we need more troops on the ground and the duration of fighting the fire is extended. This has caused folks to be engaged in suppression efforts for a longer period of time, which takes them away from their homes for a longer period of time. It has had a strain, to some degree, on our employees.
Our strategic plan is to ensure the health and safety of our employees and it continues to be our goal for our employees to get the rest they need and the support they need.
PD: When you talk to other fire leaders, how does our region stack up in terms the experience with these mega fires?
Jones: We aren’t the only unit that has seen large, devastating fires.
I would say that fires are bad everywhere. Fire season is not a season anymore — it’s year-round. And it’s not just our mission to suppress fire — we also need the public’s help as well to do their part. Programs like readyforwildfire.org are educational tools that the public can utilize to help clear vegetation around their home to ensure that they’re doing some efforts as well so that we can work together.
PD: What concerns you when you look at future fire seasons?
Jones: My biggest concern is always the public and also my firefighters. Firefighters do amazing things. ... It does weigh on me — their health and safety, ensuring that they get the rest that they need.