Fire on the mountain, fire in the town, fire on the economy. For two weeks, northern California rained ash on local land, homes and businesses forcing locals to wear respiratory masks.
There’s no doubt the North Bay fires will have a lasting effect on Sonoma County, but just how much change can we expect to see in the upcoming months and even the next few years? These fires have caused 42 deaths and chaos within the entire community. Among the thousands of burned structures, countless homeowners and businesses have suffered. While it may be too soon to know the exact effects on the local community and its economy, drastic changes are to be expected.
Evacuated with little to no time to pack, around 5,500 homeowners and their families have lost their homes; lifetimes of sentimental items and years of memories reduced to smoldering embers and ashes in a matter of hours. Three weeks after the fires began, some evacuated areas are still closed while others slowly reopen. Homeowners sift through the charred remnants of what used to be their homes and their lives.
According to reporters J.D Morris and Kevin McCallum of the Press Democrat, the local government is prepared to arrange for new policies focused on helping the thousands of displaced fire victims once again find homes. Sonoma County and Santa Rosa City officials are working on the state governed emergency laws to prevent landlords from unreasonably raising rent costs due to the emergency the community faces. According to Morris and McCallum, the county’s goal is to require landlords to, “provide supporting data to justify any increase over the unit’s average rental price from before the disaster,” while the city also plans to ban, “landlords from increasing rents more than 10 percent above the rent charged immediately before the fire.”
Furthermore, while the community recovers, local government is discussing a new set of laws to temporarily allow affected fire victims to live in RVs, guest homes, and the like. Due to the severity of the situation, Gov. Jerry Brown has announced these emergency laws will be in effect through April 18, 2018, despite the normal 30 day application.
The community’s problems extend far beyond a housing crisis. Between Sonoma, Napa, and Solano counties, not only were thousands of homes incinerated and 160,000 acres scorched, nearly 3,000 businesses were consumed by flames leaving thousands of employees out of work. According to Robert Digitale and Bill Swindell of the Press Democrat, as a community we should expect to see huge changes as this is the most dramatic economic blast we have seen in generations.
Analysts compare the losses from the fires to the historic 1906 earthquake. For example, one of the nearly 3,000 businesses that suffered enormously is the Fountaingrove Inn. Owner Angelo Farro estimates $25 million of damage, but not only has he lost his Inn and his dreams for it, 90 of the Inn’s employees have lost their jobs.
With both the county and the city working with the state to restore local life, the Sonoma County community is stronger than ever. During this difficult time, the main message the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County officials want to reiterate is, “...what we’re trying to do is show the community that we are willing to look outside the box for creative solutions that allow people to stay here through the rebuilding process,” said Santa Rosa Councilman Chris Rogers.