RRWPC Newsletter, December 2017

The dominant event since our last mailer, designated the greatest wildfire in California history, is estimated to have caused damages of around $3 billion and counting.  The fire burned about 114,000 acres, starting on the evening of Oct. 9th. Many people had only minutes to escape their houses. The largest of three fires in Sonoma County (Tubbs), and most damaging, started around Calistoga and within about a four-hour period, traveled roughly 14 miles through the Mark West area and crossed the six-lane freeway into Coffey Park in Northwest Santa Rosa.  Fires were not 100% contained until Oct. 31st.

The Tubbs fire took out most of Coffey Park, many businesses along Hopper Avenue west of 101, and on Redwood Hwy. east of 101.  It decimated much of Fountaingrove, including Round Barn, two hotels, hundreds of expensive homes and also 90% of Journey’s End Trailor Park on the east side of 101. About half of Larkfield was destroyed. Countywide, 6,600 structures were destroyed, including 5,130 homes (We have seen numbers on homes ranging from 5130 to 8400 in various articles and reports, and will do more research to find actual number.) More than 1000 homes were destroyed in Coffey Park and about 1000 more in Fountaingrove.  At a time when available housing stock is very low and rental rates sky-high, this was not a good time to lose so many structures.  People were having a hard time finding a place to stay and/or live.

The Tubbs fire also burned over 1500 houses and about 600 businesses and secondary buildings in Rincon Valley, Mark West, and Larkfield-Wikiup areas.  Many structures were lost in a separate fire in Sonoma Valley, Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Bennett Valley, especially Bennett Ridge.  Thanks to heroic efforts by firemen, all but two houses were saved in Oakmont, but unfortunately, one of the two homes belonged to the First District Supervisor, Susan Gorin.  Part of Annadel State Park was also heavily hit.  About 40 people died in all fires in Sonoma County, 23 in Santa Rosa.  At least 200 doctors lost homes, 11 staff from the Water Agency, 4 from the Regional Board and thousands more from many walks of life.

So many came to serve….The community came together to provide a multitude of services to people who had lost their housing and all their possessions overnight.  Shelters were established, water and food services set up, fund raising begun to help those affected, clothes and personal items were donated and distributed, emergency shelters were established, pet services were provided, animals rescued, and help with insurance, housing, paper work, driver’s licenses, identification cards, and much more were set up at the Press Democrat’s building.

KSRO and Press Democrat did outstanding jobs of keeping public informed about services, fire status, information about when fire victims could go back and what was happening to protect the public and property owners.  There was far more than we can describe here, but everyone was amazed and grateful that many needs were being addressed so smoothly by community members and first responders all pitching in to help. They were especially grateful for the many fire fighters who came from all over California and the western United States.  The federal and state governments and Red Cross provided extensive emergency assistance.  Millions of dollars were raised by numerous fundraisers still going on.

Fire response interrupts Regional Board’s work on Pathogen TMDL…..The cleanup has presented many challenges to Federal, State, and County Agencies.  The first phase cleanup was conducted by EPA.  Covered from head to toe in protective gear, and using detection equipment, workers looked for signs of radiation, mercury vapor and organic gases.  They sought household products that were corrosive or toxic including batteries, pesticides, paints, solvents etc.  The latest report (11-12-17) indicated that they have so far completed 84% removal of household hazardous waste from a multitude of sites.  Second phase cleanup of remaining ash, concrete, metal, foundations and toxic soils will take longer and will be conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE).

This second phase requires property owners to file right-of-entry forms allowing cleanup work to be done by ACOE contractors.  The deadline for filing was Nov. 13th.  Approximately 70% had signed up by the day before, but some owners have been concerned that ACOE may take their foundations unnecessarily.  Experts say that the foundations are usually weakened and damaged from the fire’s high heat levels but some property owners (mostly in Fountaingrove) want their own private assessment.

As a result of this major event, and because they are playing an active role in the cleanup effort (Regional Board is focused on water quality monitoring strategies and working to implement them in cooperation with other agencies and nonprofit organizations), the North Coast Board has put Hearings of the Pathogen TMDL and the Water Quality Trading Framework for the Laguna on hold (formerly scheduled for approval at their Board Meeting on Dec. 13th). These will be rescheduled to July or October, 2018. In the meantime, Regional Board proposed a conditional Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements to allow for safe discharge of fire toxins.  To see tentative order please copy this link and put in your search engine: Proposed Conditional Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements Order No. R1-2017-0056. There will be a hearing on this Order at the Dec. 13, 2017 Board meeting.  Comments are due by Nov. 17, 2017.  (Sorry, you won’t get this in time.)

RRWPC concerned about toxic runoff from properties affected by fires…..The heat of the fire caused changes in the soils that can make them hydrophobic, meaning that the soils can’t hold water and could result in landslides, mud/debris flows, and floods.  The ash from burning structures can be highly toxic (some of it anyway) and needs to be characterized, put in containers for transport, and often hauled great distances (and at great expense) to special disposal locations.  Because it may not be able to all go at once, it may sit in containers for possibly lengthy periods.

Regional Board is working hard to determine potential hazards on the 617 streams in Sonoma County affected by fire, including how entrapment of toxins with waddles and sand bags to keep them from entering waterways.  It’s a daunting task and, with rains seeming to come early (we’ve receive almost 2” since the fire ended), it is expected that not all pollution will be contained.  RRWPC has been part of a group of nonprofit and governmental representatives working together to address potential short and long term impacts.  We have met with numerous individuals to identify what’s being done and to help develop a report for the Board of Supervisors on present and future actions needed to address the various issues connected to this situation.  We will continue to keep our supporters updated.  It would really help if you could send us your email addresses so we can keep you posted on these efforts via email.

RRWPC thanks our supporters this holiday season….This is the time when we thank all who have supported us this past year, including our Board of Directors (Sherrie Althouse, Nichae Blume, Dave Blanchard, Dennis O’Leary, and Brenda Adelman), numerous mailer volunteers, including Wayne Gibb, John Uniack, Lisa Vasse, Jean Marquardt, Dale Jenkins, Cynthia Strecker, and RRWPC Board members, and all who contributed to sustain our efforts between Nov. 1, 2016 and Oct. 31, 2017. (see donor list). We also thank Russian River Senior Center staff for allowing us to use their space to assemble our mailers.  We thank Mary Anne Sobieraj for website upkeep and Dennis O’Leary for serving as Secretary and Sherrie Althouse for serving as treasurer for many years.

Please join our action email list!  Those who already shared their email addresses with RRWPC are participating in our action list and receive important announcements on issues coming up between mailers, such as sending letters of support when time is short.  We do not share email address lists and use them exclusively for important announcements and calls to action.  If you want to take part, please put email address on a donor card if you are sending in a contribution, or just send email to rrwpc@comcast.net asking to be on list.

RRWPC needs your support!   RRWPC needs your continued support to sustain our river protection work. Many of you have not yet donated in 2017.  We appreciate any sized donation annually so that we know you remain interested in receiving our mailers and supporting our work.  RRWPC relies exclusively on six mailers a year for our entire fiscal support.  Those who have not responded for over three years (see date on mailer envelope; 2014 and earlier will be removed after January 1st.) will be removed from our list if you do not contribute something before then. Contact us at rrwpc@comcast.net for further information.  Please share this information with other interested parties.

Thank you and have a wonderful holiday season!