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Five years later: 2017 Sonoma wildfires

A burned down house that had been cleared. (photo courtesy of Myrea Heaps, junior)

By Audrey Rauh, staff writer and Sofia Yocum, staff writer

 Three large wildfires, the Nuns, Tubbs, and Pocket fires, destroyed over 110,700 acres of land in both Napa and Sonoma counties in 2017. Even after five years, countless residents continue to mourn the loss of their homes and land. 

Annika Bates, a Maria Carrillo High School sophomore, lost her house in the fires. In the aftermath her family was stuck moving constantly, only seeing their burned house nearly a month after the fires. Her family was originally going to rebuild, but due to troubles with builders, they decided to rent. For the three years leading up to 2020, Bates and her family moved from one rental house to another. “It was definitely hard but we made a lot of friends along the way, like neighbors and people who we are really close to, which was really nice. I feel like if we didn’t have that, it would have been really difficult,” Bates said of the experience. 

Bates further explained, “We should acknowledge that it was such a big change for people. By doing this, we can prepare for the future and make things safer for everyone else.” The advice that she would give to other people in a situation similar to hers was “focusing on the positive things, glass half full mindset, and focus on what you have gained from it and what you feel are the best outcomes from it. Because it definitely makes it better than focusing on what happened and why it was so devastating.” Bates’ family ended up purchasing their current house, which is in the Montecito Heights area, in 2020. She hopes that in the future the community can be better prepared for such high-impacting wildfires. 

Another student, junior Myrea Heaps, also lost her house during the 2017 wildfires. Heaps’ family decided not to rebuild their old house but instead buy a new one; they ended up buying an older house in the neighborhood behind Yulupa Elementary School and renovating it. While she and her family were looking for a new house they stayed with her aunt for a time and later in an apartment. “We lost everything, it all just happened so fast,” said Heaps, remembering how hard it was. 

However, five years later she is able to reflect on the whole experience in a more positive way. “Good things come from bad things,” Heaps said. “I became closer to my family and I got a new house that I love.” She agrees with Bates that it is important to still talk about wildfires, especially since they are an active problem in the region.

Sofi Pardo, a senior, lost her home during the fires as well.“It was definitely an emotional affect, after that everything was uncertain and I never really felt comfortable in my rental”, Pardo said. She went on to discuss her diagnosis of slight PTSD and slight anxiety correlated to living in a house where she wasn’t at ease. Pardo was able to move back into her rebuilt home, but she knows that many had to move out of California or leave their neighborhoods because of the wildfires. During her experience with evacuating, she felt like “the fire was always following you.” Pardo expresses that it is still hard to talk about the fires, especially in the fall. However, she believes that hearing the experiences of others aids the “process of rebuilding Sonoma County.” 

Story LaCourse, a freshman, was affected by the fires, but their house did not burn down. LaCourse remarked on the growth in the community’s strength, saying, “It was really interesting that before the fires, I didn’t see our community as being together as it was after the fires.” For example, LaCourse recalled the Coffee Park neighborhood putting up Christmas trees and decorations to bring some joy after so many had lost so much. Additionally, LaCourse said that they do believe that it is still important to talk about fire safety and how to make your home safer, although the message has become a little repetitive. 

The local community has suffered a great deal of hardships between earthquakes, a pandemic, and flooding, with the recurring fire season only adding more stress to a city already devastated. However, students consistently told the Prensa how much more secure they feel now with increased awareness and fire safety.

Although there is still work to be done, the Santa Rosa community has been consistent, rallying in the face of flames to support those in need.

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