After the devastation of the North Bay fires, some within the Sonoma County community may be asking, “Now what?”
This question has no simple answer. However, many who have lost homes in Sonoma County, including students and faculty at Sonoma State University, are managing to process loss and piece solutions together slowly. This hopeful percentage includes Stefan Kiesbye, assistant professor of English creative writing and graduate coordinator for an MA in English.
Kiesbye, and his wife, Sanaz, used to live in Coffey Park, a neighborhood in Santa Rosa that lost about 1,500 homes to the fires. The couple and their two dogs currently reside in a small apartment elsewhere in the city.
“Too much has to be done quickly, from insurance claims to site visits to setting up new services, and I think that I have hardly begun to digest what happened,” Kiesbye said.
After evacuating his home in Santa Rosa, Kiesbye found his office at Sonoma State giving him “a tiny sense of normalcy.”
“It’s the only place that remembers me,” Kiesybe said.
Photos, drawings, books and keepsakes from travels and other homes are some of Kiesbye’s belongings that “survived the fire,” he said. Though he and his wife have moved several times, they always kept “irreplaceable” items, such as wedding photos and birth certificates.
Kiesbye said he was relatively new to the area when the fires happened, since he moved to Coffey Park with his wife last year. To Kiesbye, Sonoma County is “lovely” and “SSU is a great fit.”
Despite losing his home, Kiesbye has received an outpouring of support from colleagues, students, friends and even complete strangers.
“That is really the positive side of this experience: people going out of their way to help us,” Kiesybe said.
Kiesbye was one of 25 members of the Sonoma State faculty and staff who lost homes in the fire. According to Provost Lisa Vollendorf, 43 students also lost homes.
For students who have lost homes, it can be difficult to balance school with uncontrollable personal issues, according to Kiesbye.
“A disaster like this can have the power to delay or derail some dreams and ambitions,” Kiesbye said. “But I hope that SSU and the county will find ways to accommodate students in need and allow them to continue their studies.”