Oct 23, 2017
by Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor - Sonoma County
I have never been so proud to live in Sonoma County.
Over the past 11 days (as of October 20th), we’ve been to Hell and back. The worst wildfire in the history of the State of California slammed into the heart of our community, consuming everything in its path. Overnight, lives, homes, businesses, and entire neighborhoods incinerated. The fire moved in at breakneck pace and then lingered, raining down ash as it relentlessly marched, forcing further evacuations, consuming more acres, more buildings.
And yet what I’ll remember most thirty years from now won’t be the fire. It won’t be the charred remains of cars or the oddly vacant space where the Round Barn used to sit. It won’t be the commercial buildings laid low or the haunting skeletons of entire neighborhoods: The jarring normalcy of sidewalks, roads, and ceramic garden gnomes amid the rubble.
Thirty years from now, I’ll remember the kindness. I’ll remember the fact that in a moment of crisis, we came together as a community and we became stronger.
Strangers accepted strangers into their homes. Local businesses closed up shop and churned out thousands of meals for evacuees and firefighters. Children painted poster boards thanking first responders. Thousands of volunteers stood up and asked how they could help. Hundreds of thousands of donated items poured into evacuation centers and free stores.
For the past 11 days, instead of saying “see you later,” we said, “take care of yourself.” We said, “stay safe.” And we meant it. For that matter, when we asked “are you okay?” – we meant it. And if you weren’t okay, we hugged you, or brought you food, or new bras or underwear or a stroller or coloring books for your kids. Whatever you needed. Because it’s what we needed to do.
Thirty years from now I’ll remember that a crisis brings out the best and the worst in people. And in Sonoma County, we were – and are – so full of the best.
It’s my deepest hope that the spirit we’ve shown since Sunday, October 8, will continue in the weeks, months, and years to come. Because catastrophes take time to recover from. It will take years to rebuild what was lost. Community leaders are already talking about “the new normal.” The new normal will likely involve County property filled with temporary modular homes, private backyards parked with RVs and tiny houses, and fire survivors moving into former second homes or previous vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.
A new normal where the pride and spirit and compassion we feel today doesn’t fade. So please, keep asking your neighbors “are you okay?” – and mean it. Practice kindness wherever you go. And consider participating in the rebuilding efforts in the years to come. County government is already working on opportunities to streamline and reduce costs for granny units so that you, too, can step up to house a neighbor, friend, or family member in need.
As C.S. Lewis put it, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
We can’t change the catastrophe that just hit us. But I’ll be damned if we can’t come back and change our community for the better in the years to come. We’re not just going to rebuild. We’re going to come together and rebuild better.
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