Oct 23, 2017
At a time when media outlets from around the state and country were covering the wildfires in Sonoma County, KBBF emerged as the only radio station providing live information 24/7 in Spanish. Listeners not only heard breaking news about the fires, containment, and evacuations, but also more in-depth information and interviews from people on the front lines and impacted areas.
Volunteers began researching, translating, and relaying vital stories on the air. Alicia Sanchez, President of KBBF’s Board of Directors, shared, “We were live from Monday [October 9th], when this tragedy happened.” This coverage was made even more necessary when cell phone towers were down and power was out.
As people were displaced from their homes and seeking shelter and other resources, KBBF volunteers transitioned into reporting stories with the people and places making a difference. Reporters interviewed the Mexican Consulate,Congressman Jared Huffman, representatives of CALFIRE, Napa County Supervisor Belia Ramos, Sonoma County representatives, and officials at shelters and service centers.
In turn, the station fielded calls and questions from thousands of community members. They shared their experiences, described conditions in their areas, and asked how to get help.
During this time of crisis, it has been key that KBBF share news about relief services and resources of particular importance to the area’s vulnerable immigrant communities. Edgar Avila, the station’s Director of Programming, described how “People are afraid to go to Red Cross shelters because they are afraid they will be deported. We’re trying to get help to people who are afraid…” In addition, KBBF sought out information supporting people in the LGBT community and featured coverage in Mixteco, an indigenous language of southern Mexico spoken by many people in Sonoma County.
The station offices at Corby Avenue in Santa Rosa also became a community resource. In an interview on October 17th, Sanchez urged everyone to come to the station to get their facemasks so as to reduce exposure to hazardous air conditions. She reminded them, “We also want to hear your stories. You can call and tell us your stories, what you are feeling – and it will help the people so much.” When people responded to her call for comments, some told her that KBBF was the only place they felt they could go and be safe.
One ray of hope in the wake of so much tragedy is the launching of UndocuFund for Fire Relief in Sonoma County. Formed by a coalition of immigrant service providers and advocates, the UndocuFund will provide direct assistance to undocumented victims of the Northern California fires who lost their homes, belongings, and livelihoods. The California Wellness Foundation will match the first 50,000 dollars in donations, all of which go to the victims. The fund’s partners will cover all administrative costs.
Sanchez has been moved by how the station’s volunteers and listeners became resources for one another during a time of crisis. She shared, “I am amazed at the level of love that this community shows for each other. The community has come together and together we are going to give each other hope and strength to conquer this.”
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