Three years ago today, life in Sonoma County changed forever. Many of us went to sleep the night of October 8, 2017 unsettled by the unusually wild winds in Santa Rosa. None of us ever expected in a million years what would unfold throughout the course of that very long night. A fire started in Calistoga around 2:00 am and spread like an inferno at a rapid speed fueled by 60 miles per hour winds, reaching the city of Santa Rosa within a few hours. Thousands of people woke up in the middle of the night, some having minutes to grab their loved ones and run for their lives. 22 human lives were lost on that tragic evening.
Thinking of that night and the morning and weeks that followed, I can't help but fight back the tears. I grew up in Sonoma County. I had moved back home a week before that fateful night and will never forget waking up to the black and orange skies full of chaos, fear, confusion, smoke, ash, sadness, and overwhelm. I witnessed friends that I grew up with losing their homes, or sharing stories and images of their parent's lost home or that the school they worked at had burned down. I started volunteering at the evacuation shelters where I saw families and seniors frozen in shock as they made their way to safety. My heart felt broken and the need to bring healing and support to those who experienced such an incredible loss and trauma is apart of the origin story of Integrative Healers Action Network.
As we reflect on the 3-year anniversary of the Tubbs Fire, where are we now? During the past 12 months in Sonoma County, we have had three major fires that have each burned more acreage than the Tubbs Fire - the Kincade Fire (October 2019), the Walbridge Fire (August 2020), and the Glass Fire Incident (October 2020 and is still not contained). Each fire brings more evacuations, more homes lost, and more emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health challenges. Between the stress, anxiety, disrupted sleep, and poor air quality, everyone in Sonoma County has been deeply impacted by these fires. The overall sentiment I observe in myself and others around the community during the fires the last few months is a weird combination of overwhelm, numbness, and increased resilience. These fires have quickly become our new normal. And this is all in the context of seven months of COVID-19, increasing political instability, and a rise in white supremacy terrorism.
Growing up here in the 80s and 90s, there was no fire season in Sonoma County. October was marked by changing colors in the trees and vineyards, cooler days, trips to the pumpkin patch, and the beginning of the rainy season. So much has changed. 2020 was the hottest August and September on record in California. The Golden State is ground zero for the climate crisis and our communities are tasked with discovering how to not just survive, but create new systems to work together and build resilience in the face of real danger.
Although the last three years have carried many difficult challenges for myself and many other Sonoma County residents, it is has been also some of the most heart-opening and connective years I have ever experienced in this county. I have met incredible people and organizations doing powerful work to make this community and world a better place. I have met so many real-life heroes, and not just the incredible firefighters and other first responders who work their butts off to keep us safe. People from all walks of life, all professions, all backgrounds, all cultures. People who have stepped up to help feed, clothe, protect, and provide healing and support to neighbors they have never met before but give their love and care so openly and completely to.
IHAN is proud to call Sonoma County home. Starting with the 2017 Tubbs Fire, we have partnered with the Red Cross to setup integrative health clinics at shelters to provide immediate care to evacuees experiencing psychological trauma, stress, anxiety, physical pain, insomnia, and other common conditions that arise for evacuees after a disaster. We partner with many other wonderful organizations to provide free integrative health care to first responders, the Latinx community, seniors, and other members of the community that have been most impacted by these fires. Our volunteers are all licensed and certified professionals who have been vetted and completed trauma-informed training that we have developed over the last few years.
IHAN is growing quickly because the climate crisis is demanding new solutions to very real problems. Resilience is a team effort, and we cannot continue to help our community and other communities around California who are also impacted by major wildfires without your support. We are always looking for more volunteers, donors, and collaborators. Sending big love to you all as we hold the memory of the lives lost and the lives forever changed by the Tubbs Fire in our hearts. May we continue to work together to discover a new pathway forward and co-create future where love and compassion can strengthen connection and healing during this time of great change.
Jenny Harrow, MA
Cofounder and Executive Director