Oct 23, 2017
by Tom Austin
I write these words on the 15th of October. As I write this, the Tubbs Fire is 60% contained. I tell you this because I know that anything I write now could be overtaken by events. I am cautiously optimistic, as you were on the 15th, that the worst was over.
It’s true that this is a Camp Meeker column, and Camp Meeker was spared the devastation due to the luck of geography. I’m sure you have all silently whispered “there but for the Grace of God Go I” as you watched. I would wager, without seeing copy from my colleagues, that a good deal of us will be writing about the fire. That’s as it should be – helping Sonoma County recover from this fire is now our job. We are knit together with the larger community. We all breathe the smoke together. If you weren’t directly affected by the flames, you know someone who was. You know dozens of people who were. This isn’t that big of a place, Sonoma County.
I’m not sure where to start. Like you, I am still wrapping my mind around the enormity of the event. All of our modern civilization defenses overwhelmed by a primal force much, much older than we are. The realization that you are not really at the top of the food chain. That we are small boats on a very, very large ocean. It’s humbling.
Okay, enough navel-gazing.How I feel about all this is pretty beside the point. How can I help? That’s the question we’re all asking. The immediate need is for shelter. If you have a spare bedroom, you might take a friend in for a while. If not, there are many ways to help, ways I haven’t even thought of yet. But you might have. It’s also important to be effective. If we (collectively) give too much of one thing, and not enough of another, our efforts are wasted. As fraught with emotional baggage as it is, money is the most fungible and effective medium. Give it to people and organizations you trust, and let them put it to use.
If you don’t have money to spare, donate your time and your skills. If you’re good at navigating bureaucracies and filling out the right form, there are lots of people who aren’t. There will be help available from FEMA, from insurance companies, and from other sources, but that only works if people know how to access it. Help them. It doesn’t matter what you’re good at – making soup, comforting frightened people, rescuing animals, cleaning up messes, lifting and carrying – there’s a need for it. Until there is food, clothing, and shelter for those who need it, that’s the job.
After that, we rebuild and regrow. The forests themselves will lead the way. It’s part of their lifecycle, and now it’s part of ours. There is plenty of hard work ahead, and new growth. This will be painful, and will include mourning what we have lost. But this too shall pass, and one day soon a new Sonoma County will emerge from the ashes.
That’s about all I’ve got right now. In future columns I will talk about specific things Camp Meeker night want to do in order to learn from the lessons of this fire. This will include talking to those who were in the thick of the fight. Camp Meeker VFD and Cal Fire will have plenty to teach us about defensible space, both individually and as a community. We can be an eager and attentive class.
Final thought: I’m sure you are thinking about what would happen in Camp Meeker if, God Forbid, we find ourselves in this situation. How are we going to get each other to safety? What is our evacuation plan? What is in your emergency box? The time to plan all that is now. Let’s get started!
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