In The Fire Zone: An Update From Northern California

In The Fire Zone: An Update From Northern California October 13, 2017

October 13th, 2017 – Sonoma County, California

The fires started on October 8th. No cause has been determined yet and realistically won’t for quite some time. Local speculation is that the fires started when power lines were blown down during a wind storm that swept eastward, through the area. Gusts of wind up to 80 miles per hour were reported. Sonoma County residents know that the winds kick up in October and winds coming from the east rarely bring good fortune. Fire investigators will eventually get around to reporting on the actual causes, but for now, lifesaving and firefighting operations are still the top priorities.

The news broadcasts have shown the worst of the devastation and the best of our community. Notwithstanding hyperbolic news teasers with taglines like “Wine Country Fire Storm, ” the loss of life and property hasn’t been over-exaggerated. There are whole sections of the community that have been reduced to ash and rubble. Several neighborhoods are cordoned off because the area is just too volatile. There are tens of thousands of acres still burning and acrid smoke is everywhere. With several fires still at near zero containment and others only getting close to twenty-five percent containment, predictions suggest there will be flames for at least another ten days. With the fires still raging and the winds still blowing, the chance that these fires head back into densely populated, urban and suburban areas is still very much a reality.

The Geography of The Fire

What you might not know about this part of the world is that Sonoma and Napa counties sit, essentially, in a series of valleys. Low foot hills and mountain ranges form a ring around the area. Even in the middle of downtown Santa Rosa, the fifth most populous city in Northern California, the bone dry foothills are no more than a ten minute drive away in practically any direction.  Urban areas are surrounded by suburban neighborhoods that back up to farms, fields, acres of vineyards, and open space.

What’s really nasty about these fires, and what has firefighters, City Managers and residents really worried, is that the shifting winds could drive these separate fires into one massive conflagration, surrounding the entire region. That’s why so many people have been evacuated and tens of thousands are packed and ready to go if and when the order comes.

Those same fertile valleys and blazing mountain ranges are also keeping the smoke here too. And for folks that aren’t in the path of the fire itself, the smoke is the worst thing. It’s thick and heavy and brown. It’s less “plastic” and “industrial” smelling today than it was a few days ago, but it’s still a noxious mix of who knows what.

Fire crews are furiously bulldozing fire breaks and setting back fires to limit the amount of available fuel, should the winds change again. Embers and ash and charred leaves are raining down. I found a piece of burned paper in my front yard today. It looked like a page from a book.

Charred leaves and paper from the fire
Charred leaves and paper from the fire

The Community Effort is amazing

The first responders have been amazing. Crews from all over California and the western U.S have been showing up. There are more than 9000 firefighters working around the clock. The systems of Government response appear to be functioning as well as is to be expected. Sonoma county residents have overwhelmed the shelters with donations. Within two days of the fire, aid organizations were posting that they had more than enough supplies and to check back in a few more days. All kinds of high school gyms, churches and community centers have been turned into temporary hospitals and places of respite for the displaced.

This part of Northern California has a huge pagan population. A large number of folk are activists, in some shape or form, and that means they are really well plugged into to local support networks. Almost immediately after the official emergency alerts were being sent out, information started spreading through the various pagan communities. There were calls for support, spare rooms offered, resources mobilized, pet care secured, and most critically, really specific information about how to get official updates was sent around. Folks that needed to find what was really happening, were able to get to that info quickly.

Today many pagans are volunteering at the shelters, distributing respirator masks, making sandwiches, getting out information, counselling victims and displaced folks, working in hospitals as nurses and doctors and checking in on each other as the stress levels continue to climb.

What You Can Do

Prayers and well wishes and lit candles are lovely. Thank you. Here are some other practical things you can do as well:

  • Donate Money to the Red Cross and learn more about what you and the Red Cross Can do –
  • Actually call or check in with someone you know. I know my nerves are stretched pretty thin right now and the folk that have checked in with me and just listened have helped immensely
  • Call back in two weeks and see how your loved ones are doing then. It’s gonna be a long road to recovery and folks will need help weeks and months and maybe even years from now.
  • Don’t spread conspiracy theories. So far I’ve heard these fires were a government plot to destroy the marijuana harvest and that there was a laser fired into the Coffey Park neighborhood so that property developers could level the area and build luxury condos (I’M NOT KIDDING FOLKS!). Please don’t spread this crap. Even if it were true, it’s just jangling everyone’s nerves.
  • Get Nixle on your phone. It is absolutely the best resource for official updates. Text 888-777 and your zip code and updates are automatically pushed to your phone.
  • Be prepared for a disaster where you live. Know where your important documents are. Pack a “go bag” and have a plan.


We are not remotely through this here in Sonoma county. The winds are predicted to pick up again this weekend and wind mean the fire could spread in unpredictable ways.

Wish us well

Wherever you are, be safe and well!





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