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Sonoma County Gazette
Bodega Bay Grange became Evacuation Center

Community response to Firestorm

Oct 23, 2017
by Dr. Michael Trapani


I have never before written a column on a non-veterinary topic. If there was ever an appropriate time, it’s now.

A firestorm burst to life in tinder-dry brush. Driven by Diablo winds, it will destroy one out of twenty homes in the City of Santa Rosa in the middle of the night. No one has ever seen a fire blast into residential neighborhoods as this one has done, and no one was prepared. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. Scores of people were killed, and many are missing whose remains may never be found, lost among the ashes.

But no one will ever count the animals whose lives were lost. No one will ever count the raccoons and opossum; the deer and the skunks and the squirrels; the dogs and cats and caged birds and fish and pocket pets left behind in their owner’s mad dash to escape immolation; the “feral,” unowned community cats who lived in the open spaces between the homes that burned…

What can anyone do when they have five minutes to escape or die? There are tragedies wherever we look, and here and there, a miracle: small favors from God.

I am proud of the way our community has risen to help the displaced and suddenly homeless people who flooded Bodega Bay that Monday morning. Barb and I were awakened around 3 AM by the traffic on Highway One. The morning news offered a nightmarish explanation for the black smoke that seemed to hold back the sunrise. By 9 AM, our little town was crowded with shell-shocked evacuees who napped in their cars while waiting to hear the fate of their homes. By noon, volunteers had mobilized to feed and clothe and house those hundreds of displaced people seeking refuge here. A number of businesses provided free meals to anyone who lived in the fire zone, some refusing to accept payment when offered. In short order, the Grange Hallwas established as a displaced persons shelter and a vast pile of clothing and towels and blankets and sleeping bags were collected for distribution to the needful.

Similar events took place in communities throughout the region. What’s amazing is that the little town of Bodega Bay, (population 1,077) was capable of mobilizing so many volunteers and so much aid in this time of crisis. Everywhere you could look, whether in the local parks, where campsites were made available for the displaced, or the homes of neighbors who offered shelter to complete strangers, Bodega Bay pitched in to help the hundreds - or thousands - of people who came to our little community in need.

I wish I could tell you how to prepare to weather a storm of this magnitude. I wish there were some kind of formula that can make us all safe. Like it or not, believe it or not, our climate is changing and catastrophic weather events will continue to become more severe and more frequent. This firestorm is just another consequence of the changes we have made to our planet.

We must expect more of these horrific fires in the future - just as we must expect more hurricanes and floods and tornados and droughts. Sea levels will continue to rise and ultimately, millions of us will be displaced. Our ability to grow crops will be altered and we will have even greater problems feeding our populations. Human beings will continue to be displaced world-wide in greater and greater numbers. Our “little catastrophe” in Sonoma County pales in the face of tragedies yet to come.

What can you do?

Trim your trees. Rake your leaves. Create defensible space. Make an emergency evacuation plan. Pack an emergency bag for every member of the family, pets included. Have a leash for every dog and a carrier for every cat. A Google search of “emergency preparations” yields almost 3.5 million hits in less than 0.47 seconds. There is no lack of information describing the many, many ways we might mitigate the effects our next catastrophic event.

But those things are not enough. The Earth is wounded and must be healed. The human activity that promotes climate change can be modified to limit and eventually reverse these changes. Since politicians and government are too cowardly or ineffective to take up this challenge, our only choice is to make necessary changes ourselves.

I love this Earth. I find its beauty both breathtaking and ubiquitous. This is, without a doubt, the most wonderful planet I have ever visited. I’m going to do my part to keep it this way.


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