After the Fires: California’s Napa and Sonoma Wine Country emerges stronger from the ashes and is ready to welcome tourists.
“And [we’ll] rise up …
[We’ll] rise like the day …
[We’ll] rise unafraid …
High like the waves … In spite of the ache …
[We’ll] rise up …
And [we’ll] do it a thousand times again … ”
Andra Day. Lyrics to “Rise Up”. Cheers to the Fall. 2015.
After the turmoil, destruction and uncertainty brought on by the October 2017 firestorm, California’s Napa, Sonoma and surrounding wine country communities are RISING UP and taking bold strides toward recovery.
While the tourist eye will likely see very little of the damage brought on by the fires that began on the evening of October 8, 2017, the sad reality is that 45 people lost their lives and 5,400 homes were destroyed during the nearly three- week long blaze. An additional few hundred business structures and 114, 000 acres of countryside that includes regional parks were also heavily damaged.
The donation and evacuation centers where displaced victims sought support for shelter, sleep, food, and basic needs were the focus of attention during the first weeks of the fires. The call for help was answered by individuals and families showing up for a devoted 24/7 effort to help make beds, clean showers, serve food, attend to minor first aid needs, and entertain adults and children. The walk of life of those who showed up to help was irrelevant, socioeconomic status was not on display with the volunteers or with the displaced victims. The main uniting factor was the desire to be of help regardless of the task. Due to the immense and unprecedented emergency, the call for help received such an overwhelming response that volunteers and donations had to be turned away from some places and allocated to one of the many independent support efforts flourishing around the Napa and Sonoma counties.
The uniting banners, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke” and “Wine Country Strong” have been embodied daily by the Napa and Sonoma communities in more ways than one throughout the last few months. The fires brought to light an ineffable resilience and the unbreakable sense of community amongst individuals, neighbors, local businesses, and the surrounding region. Simply put, extraordinary human kindness has been the prevalent sentiment.
Despite the personal losses, people selflessly got out to help one another in any way that was possible. Local businesses were quick to take care for their employees who were displaced, offering shelter space and support. Restaurants were at the ready to offer their services providing free food for first responders and to neighbors in the local community despite many of the owners having their own damage and loss to deal with at home. Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts were also at the ready to help displaced victims as best they could, some even offering no charge for their space and services at the onset. Amongst neighbors and friends, people opened their homes for a night, or two, or a week of shelter. Neighborhoods organized family potlucks to offer people a place to gather for food and support. Citizens rallied their expertise to set up Go Fund Me donation efforts and fundraising events to help offer immediate assistance for basic needs. Looking ahead to the future needs of the rebuild efforts, regional banks and Credit Unions set up Resiliency Funds structuring recovery grant programs for foundations or individuals. Competing businesses partnered for large scale efforts that focused on extending the call to assist the support and relief effort beyond the regional borders. Wineries and restaurants set up Dinner Galas around the holidays, breweries partnered for special joint efforts with online sales packages of their most sought-after products. Local shops set up “Pop Up” shops to help gather donated goods and distribute basic need items like clothing, linens, and toiletries. Our neighbors in other counties in Marin, Sacramento and San Francisco were also quick to rally with support setting up large-scale musical concert events. The joint efforts became a veritable and poetic force against the unpredictable blaze of nature.
The start of the new year offers a welcome turn of the page from the year just concluded. The new year represents hope and opportunity for the many families and businesses that lost it all in the firestorm. The recovery will demand great patience with a prolonged period of reconstruction. Three months later, the rebuilding efforts are just beginning. The evacuation centers have mostly closed as people have been transitioned to temporary housing options. And the fervor which has driven the volunteer effort from the onset of the firestorm continues. People have travelled into the damaged areas to offer help with the clearing and cleaning of evacuation centers, burn site debris clearing, building of temporary housing projects and supporting countless other relief efforts. The creativity abounds and continues to thrive.
As more people are allowed back to their neighborhoods to sift through the remains of their homes, the greater the awareness becomes of the monumental rebuilding task ahead. The rebuild process will require some ambitious and creative thinking in how to find living space for those who have been displaced and are still in need of long-term shelter. The hope is that existing housing rules will include generous flexibility to allow people to live on their property in recreational vehicles, travel trailers, or temporary residential units such as tiny homes and containers, while they wait for their homes to be rebuilt. And as people wait for their homes to be rebuilt or find other housing solutions, they’re returning to work, caring for their families and desperately aiming to establish a sense of normalcy.
The sense of normalcy sought by individuals also extends to the local economy and the tourism industry. Despite the fires’ impact on homes and area landscapes, the tourist and most highly visited areas remain virtually unscathed. Throughout the holidays, tourism was heavily impacted with expected visitors cancelling reservations at local hotels, wineries and restaurants, despite those immediate areas having not been affected. The economic impulse of the tourism industry is vital to keeping the regional economy healthy and strong. While the initial pair of weeks of the firestorm were not an ideal time for tourism, this time of year (January through March) as Spring starts to inch its way through the Winter layers, is an especially excellent time of year to visit. You enjoy a quieter take of the wine country with many wineries, hotels and restaurants offering season specials and packages. You almost feel like the region is showcasing the bounty of its land just for you. Autumn offered up a fantastic feast of colors throughout October and well into early December. Soon, the Spring flowers will bloom offering an especially welcome and symbolic brightness to the landscape. We invite you to come for a visit and enjoy this wonderful region.
“Sonoma Welcome You”
From its Valley of the Moon to the breathtaking forests and coast, this beautiful and rich land embraces you.
Its warm blanket of sunshine greets you as you embark on your week’s cycling journey.
Every pedal stroke driven by excitement of the day’s discoveries.
The wind playfully offers a challenge, but many times your ally carrying you up the valleys as you explore.
With drive and perseverance, you conquer the steeper grades and the distances – all at your own rhythm and pace.
The exhilaration of the day’s accomplishments overflows into each jubilant evening gathering.
Delectable meals paired with renowned fruits of the wine valley are on daily display for your savoring.
And so, the evening greets the night and soon a week’s adventuring concludes.
Wanderlust validated and further inspired.
Awaiting your arrival, Sonoma welcomes you.
“Sonoma Welcome You” – unknown
Your visit to the Sonoma and Napa wine country on your next three, five or six-day cycling tour is perhaps the best way you can help from afar. The region is stands ready to showcase the bounty of the land and its sights and is ready to welcome visitors. Connect with us to plan your cycle tour to California’s Wine Country.
Laura lives in Santa Rosa, CA a town that was severely impacted by the fires. She has been spending much of her time since supporting the relief and reconstruction efforts.
Other ways to support the California Sonoma and Napa Fire relief efforts:
Sonoma Pride is a partnership between Russian River Brewing Company and King Ridge Foundation. In part, the Sonoma Pride Label is being released in effort to raise funds for victims of the catastrophic fire events that have taken place in Sonoma County, California in October of 2017.