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Sonoma County Gazette
Bodega Bay Beat by Joan Poulos

Bodega Bay Opens Doors to Fire Victims

Oct 23, 2017
by Joan Poulos


This was the week that everyone shared one reality – FIRE. For several days our area has been waiting and watching the spreading wildfires. We watch the weather channel and breathe a sigh of relief that we don’t share the low humidities of Napa Valley, or the tinder growth of Cow Mountain or Covelo. We share the sadness of those who have lost their homes in Santa Rosa or in any of the other locations where homeowners have been evacuated or watched their precious homes go up in flames. From Covelo in the North, to the City of Sonoma; to Santa Rosa into the Napa Valley. This is a disaster.

This morning I awakened to a beautiful red sky. I delighted in the “sunrise” until I realized it was fire. This has been the focus of cities from Ukiah to the East Bay Hills (the Diablo Range). Our friends have lost their homes in Santa Rosa, Potter Valley, Kenmore, Oakmont. Our roads were clogged with those fleeing the raging flames; our community stepped up to meet the need.

 In Bodega Bay, the Grange opened its doors to all; the Bodega Church opened its doors to those who preferred to go there. The first day the Grange was open they served 300 people. The CERT trailer was in place; Waves of Compassion stepped in with food. Two days ago, 180 people spent the night at Doran Beach. For years those of us who had no first-hand contact with Red Cross felt like it was an administrative-heavy organization. NO MORE. The Red Cross stepped in and helped organize the program at the Grange. CERT and Patti Gionnochio got the trailer in place which provided cots, sleeping bags, food and organization. Waves of Compassion helped the locals get organized and provided food. Red Cross helped supply games and books for the young (mostly Spanish speaking) children. The local restaurants plied the site with excellent food and local merchants provided food and drinks. The community provided so many sweatshirts and jackets that by Saturday they had to say no to any more donations. The CERT group was certainly instrumental in organizing the huge influx of those fleeing the fire. Everybody helped. A great proportion of those who found themselves homeless were Hispanic. Our community found those who spoke Spanish, and donated books and games for Spanish- speaking children. The aura in the Grange Hall was one of joy, even though most of the children there were from families who had lost their homes. It warms your heart to see someone who probably doesn’t speak Spanish and who comes from an affluent part of the city, sitting on the floor teaching a Spanish-speaking child how to make lemonade. Children are resilient.

The children knew their homes were not somewhere they could go, The volunteers arranged the clothing so that the warm clothes were available before the children went to the beach to sleep. The pile of sleeping bags was impressive, and towels were plentiful, outnumbered only by the sweatshirts. The availability of showers in the Honey Pot trailer was much appreciated.

People were allowed to bring their dogs. There weren’t many, but those who were there provided great comfort to their owners. The community even donated dog food… now THAT is charity.

There were multiple acts of kindness. Jim Moore, the President of the local Grange, was omnipresent at the Grange Hall. He knew where all the chairs were; he knows how the kitchen worked. Anything he didn’t know, he knew who to ask. The community is thankful that the Grange is there. The kitchen is excellent; the bathrooms are handicapped-developed. The parking is good (even with the huge Red Cross trailer in front), and they forewent paying occupants (the Fisherman’s Chapel voluntarily agreed to meet elsewhere) to allow the community to step up and meet a well-defined need.

Fisherman’s Chapel proved that a church is more than just a building. Thanks to the hospitality of Rudy and Kathy Durant we simply moved the location. We didn’t have a grand piano, but the electric piano served fine. We had almost as many attending as we do on a normal Sunday. One of our members went to Doran beach at 6 a.m. to see if everything was safe and acceptable. Two of the evacuees followed him to the Sunday service and recorded the entire service in order to be able to share it with those who could not physically be present. It is not clear whether or not the recording will be available for sale, but it is a good possibility.

Life goes on, in our village. We had yoga, as we do four days a week, and even though the box of Kleenex got a heavy hit from those of us who find the smoke an issue, we persisted in our program. This day was a special one. It was Vickie (our teacher’s birthday) and the school in Petaluma where her grandson (who lives with her) attends was closed. She solved the parents’ problem; she brought five young ones to yoga. They jumped right into the program, and although there were a few more giggles than usual (and the usual visit from the four experienced dogs), the practice proceeded as always. This is the kind of resiliency that makes Bodega Bay such a special place.

One of the side effects of the evacuations is that more houses are occupied in Bodega Bay than usual. On our street, Santa Rosa residents “visited old friends,” moved into their almost-always empty houses, and brought friends with them. The street was busy and occupants brought dogs and kids like it was in the old days. As they say, it’s an ill-wind that brings no good.

The worst of the fire is over. We hope desperately for some rain this weekend. The damage will take decades to repair. Pick a reliable charity and vow to share with those who have lost so much. We need to join together to thank the firefighters who braved the huge fire threat (some of them even lost their own homes.) The worst is probably over; but we can’t drop our vigilance. The community has several untended lots where the weeds have grown and dried. We all need to be aware of the constant threat of fire (even when you live in the sand dunes.) Remind the few remaining cigarette smokers that they need to find a place to put cigarette butts..and it is NOT in a field or next to a chip-filled flower bed.

Each Sunday it falls to me to sweep the porch leading into the Grange. There are so many cigarette butts that I have threatened to gather them all up and mail them to Phillip Morris or Marlborough.

We have not learned how the major fire started. There are many guesses (downed lines; broken gas lines, untended barbecues.) but there is no doubt about the results. We know that eternal vigilance is the price we pay to avoid fire damage. Don’t be afraid to speak out if you see dangerous conduct. We are all in this together. Be diligent (a form of kindness). As always, in whatever circumstance: Be Kind.

Photos by John Hershey Photography


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