The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

    A year since the fires


    One year ago the North Bay community was rattled when an out-of-control wildfire destroyed at least 245,000 acres, killed 44 people, and caused about 14.5 billion dollars in destruction. Houses and businesses were burnt to the ground, when the wildfires broke out throughout six different counties.  It was the deadlist week of wildfires in California history and its effects are still being seen a year later. 

    Students and staff on our campus were largely affected by the disaster and many are still struggling to rebuild what it torn down. Eighty staff and students lost their homes, Judy Sakaki, the university’s president, said at an event last month. She is one of those 80, and has moved six times since, as she attempts to rebuild her life after she lost everything in her house. She barely escaped, barefoot in the middle of the night, as the fire raged through her neighborhood.

    Campus was closed for six days, and all classes were cancelled for more than a week. It threw the entire semester for a loop. Campus events paused, as everyone took time to regroup. Many students left the area because going outside meant breathing in smoke.

    Professors were forced to abbreviate their courses for the semester. The university policy was that students couldn’t be responsible for the same amount of work in a shorter semester.

    Sonoma State has made an effort to help those affected by the fires in the year since. The university offered special winter semester scholarships to anyone who was greatly affected, set up a NomaCares center to offer psychological support, and raised money for relief. This summer, the Green Music Center hosted a benefit concert featuring Brad Paisley that raised $189,000 for fire victims.

    Student Alina Robello remembers the event like it was yesterday. She said that she remembered the night already being unusually hot and windy and even was talking to a few close friends saying how strange it was. 

    Robello was told by her friends this was a normal thing and to just go to sleep. The next thing she recalls was being woken up to her phone going off the hook from messages from family members and emergency alerts. 

    Robello’s parent’s house, where she grew up, was dead center in the middle of northeast Santa Rosa. When she realized that’s what was burning she instantly went into panic mode. She started frantically texting them and for what seemed like forever didn’t get a response. 

    All she could do was lay in her campus dorm room bed shaking and wondering the fate. They finally were able to get in contact with her very early in the morning saying that they were safe at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and even managed to save their animals. 

    “I lost my home of 20 years to the Tubbs Fire that night,” Robello said. Her parents had to stay in an RV and she said how hard it was to all be separated after everything. 

    “I started having terrible nightmares that got so bad that I was afraid to fall asleep. There were times that I wouldn’t sleep for days,” she said. “I was in a perpetual state of fight or flight and everything made me panic.” 

    Robello was diagnosed with PTSD from the disaster and really struggled having no place to go home to to feel safe. This is why she believes that there should have been more psychological help for those affected. She said that there should never be a problem asking for help and especially in times of need,  the best thing to do is care for yourself and others. 

    As the one year anniversary of the fires approaches she said she can feel all of the memories coming back to her and knows she is one of thousands that will feel this hurtful memory.

    Sonoma State professors, many of whom live in Santa Rosa, were also affected by the wildfires. “We only had ten minutes to evacuate, so everything from computers to birth certificates, photo albums to paintings, clothes to books… was burned,” said English professor Stefan Kiesbye. 

    At around 1:30 a.m., Kiesbye’s dog began to bang against his bedroom door which is what woke him up. When he got up to check on him, he faintly heard a popping sound but had no idea what he was hearing. He went outside, started to smell the smoke and noticed that the air outside was almost foggy-looking. His wife and he began to do their research online to see what was going on but the websites lead them to believe it wasn’t close to them yet. 

    “It had already jumped the highway and was moving into Coffey Park. I only realized how close the fires were when my neighbor’s yard went up in flames,” he said.

    Kiesbye and his wife lost everything they owned that night. “The past is completely gone,” Kiesbye said, thinking about how to restart.

    A year later and Kiesbye and his wife are still trying to rebuild what was so abruptly taken away from them. “There are moments when I feel hopeful and energized, but more often, the setbacks — delays at the permit office, insurance companies stopping rent payments after a certain amount of time, are jeopardizing my living situation.”

    Other than the personal setbacks they are encountering, Kiesbye believes the City of Santa Rosa wasn’t properly prepared for the disaster. He talked about how the night of the fires, there was no sirens audible and no phone alerts. The only warning he received was when a police car came down his street and uttered a few short words about evacuating. “My neighbor burnt in her sleep due to this.”

    “It’s tough to understand how deep and long-lasting the effects of the fires are. The reality is very nerve-racking and will continue to be for a very long time”. Kiesbye finished by saying the hardest moments are the little things like reaching into his closet for his favorite shirt and realizing he’s lost it or waking up and forgetting where he is and what took place. He does have hope for the future though and said all we need is patience. 

    Many others were greatly affected by the fire, like Communications professor Ethan de Seife. According to Bloomberg, he had recently moved to Sonoma County with his wife and newborn son which took them quite a long time, due to how expensive housing is. They finally found the perfect place for their family in Santa Rosa. This was very short lived and now they are having to pick up the pieces and start all over again. De Seife was one of the many whose house burnt down. He lost basically all of his possessions. 

    The fires that took place the night of Oct. 9 are something that Sonoma State will never forget. Never before has a fire threatened the school like that. Thousands were affected, and hundreds had everything they had reduced to dust on the floor. The blaze not only lost lives and homes but it also made the already tight real estate market even more costly.

    One year later, the effects are still being felt as some are just now getting back on their feet.

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