This week’s wildfires in Northern California are an example of how nature, weather, and environment combined into the perfect fire storm that no defense could have prevented. And, when an event like this happens and directly impacts your family and friends, resilience takes on a whole new meaning.
At RMS, we are used to thinking about the “what if” of catastrophic events such as the recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and cyberattacks. We are accustomed to working with our clients, public agencies, and city officials to think about how best to protect their communities from disasters, defining what defenses are needed to keep tragedy at bay, and how to “build back better” should an event happen. But this all comes into sharp focus when it affects people you know and love.
For my family members, Sunday, October 8, really was just a normal day in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, in the heart of the beautiful Northern California wine country, just 55 miles (88 kilometers) north over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Their house on Fountaingrove Parkway is located on the northern side of Santa Rosa. The headquarters of Keysight Technologies, damaged in the fire, is also located on this five-mile long road.
The sky that Sunday afternoon was clear — it was hot and sunny, 31 degrees Celsius (87° Fahrenheit). Around midnight, just into Monday, October 9, the first-hand accounts from my own family mimic those heard in the news. Woken by the strong smell of smoke and hurricane force winds, they emerged from their home to find heavy clouds of smoke and a red orange glow on the horizon behind their home. Less than two hours later, and in the midst of a wind fire that came from many directions, they made a quick decision to just leave everything behind and evacuate their neighborhood.
There was no warning, only neighbors yelling to one another in the dark, knocking on each other’s doors, warning people to get out of their homes as quickly as possible. Families had no time to grab belongings, any treasured possessions, and everything including little things like razors, blankets, clothing, and more were forgotten in the rush for survival. My family, and neighbors were stunned. “It was literally a fire storm,” they said. “It felt like the apocalypse.”
It is important to remember that there are human faces and people’s lives caught up amid every disaster that we as RMS and the wider industry focus upon. And as the sun rose on Monday morning, people living in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Mendocino Counties had their world changed forever. This video from the Washington Post sums up the scene that morning. There will be much healing required in the aftermath of this devastation, for whole communities and for those personally scarred by the experience. But, I know there will be resilience in time.
I sent a note to my family on Monday night, after a day spent on a rollercoaster of emotions —sometimes putting feelings into words makes it easier to impart: “Where there was once a home, there are now memories. We lost a family home today full of cherished times and much love, and thank God, the people who made that house a home have survived, and wherever they make a house their home next, it will also be our home. Because love is where love resides.”