2020 evacuations refined as Sonoma County braces itself

By Jon Donohue, staff writer

When the Glass Fire forced many residents in Sonoma and Napa County to evacuate on the night of Sept. 27, it conjured  many scary memories of the past Tubbs and Kincade fires. The evacuation process has changed greatly over the past three years, and it is clear that 2017 evacuations were a lot different than 2020 evacuations. Whereas 2017 was very frantic and rushed, 2020 was a lot more organized and efficient.

Citizens of Santa Rosa were abruptly woken up on October 8 2017, not knowing that their life would be forever changed from that moment on. A fire had erupted in the northern part of Calistoga, and quickly spread to Santa Rosa at unprecedented speeds, forcing 68,000 citizens to evacuate. Max Townsend, a junior from Santa Rosa High School who was evacuated, did not have many thoughts go through his head as he got ready to leave. He specifically remembers hearing his dad tell him to “get some clothes and get going.” He was halfway asleep and just had to rush as fast as he possibly could, for his family did not have time to get many belongings. Townsend, like many others, only had the time to “grab a hoodie and my phone and get out.” The experience was very “hectic and chaotic,” which is relatable to a lot of residents who evacuated.

 Fast forward to 2020, and evacuations have evolved. Because people were aware of wildfire danger, the evacuation was less rushed. Sean Gubera, a Maria Carrillo High School sophomore, was one of many who had to evacuate again due to the recent Glass Fire. When his parents got several Nixle alerts and told him that there was a fire, he thought to himself, “this is just another drill.”  Once he learned this fire was on the way, he began to get ready and “take as many pictures as I could to have images of my belongings and how things used to be if I lost my home, but also because of the sentimental value.” Other students have reported taking pictures as well, bracing themselves in case they needed proof to collect insurance, as well as the sentimental value in the belongings.  

According to Gubera, the recent evacuation experience was much more organized. 

“Because of the lightning fires recently, I decided it was probably a good idea to put together a list of things I needed to pack up if we needed to get out again. That was two days before the Glass Fire,” said Gubera. 

“I ended up grabbing things that were not even on the list,” Gubera said. “The list really expedited the process; it would probably have taken me an extra 30-45 minutes to do the process.”

Santa Rosa residents had power and platforms like Nixle or fire maps, so they could get  better updates and communicate with others. Gubera believes that when “you hear about the incoming fire, it is less scary, and more of an automated response. Once you have done the things needed to get ready to leave, then the emotions start to set in.” 

Despite the frightening experience of being evacuated, parts of Sonoma and Napa county have adjusted to these disasters. Benjamin Choe, a Maria Carrillo High school sophomore,  stated that this time around to be “more civil, because we’ve been through this before so we are more prepared.” He mainly was hoping that everyone was getting out safely. He also knew that the fire was not going towards him, but others worried him a lot. “I was more concerned with the safety of others, because I was in Bennett Valley,” he said. Wildfire evacuations have forced their way into our lives, and it seems like they will continue to happen in Sonoma and Napa county.

In the words of Choe, “This time around was less of a surprise, more of a routine.”

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