The night the Napa wildfires began, Napa Postmaster Juliana Davison said her first inkling of the disaster came via a phone call in the middle of the night.
The Trancas Street post office had no power, she was informed.
She arrived at the post office around 3:30 a.m. “At that point, we were largely unaware of how bad the fires had gotten,” said Davison.
“We were in the dark, literally.”
It would be another day or two before the full extent of the disaster became known, but in the meantime, the mail for thousand of residents and businesses still had to be processed.
Davison said that in the early morning hours of Monday, Oct. 9, even without power, overnight shift postal workers continued sorting the mail, wearing headlamps for illumination.
“They just don’t give up,” she said of the staff.
Unfortunately, when road closures prevented the mail from being delivered, it immediately started accumulating inside the facility, she said.
“We had to come up with an elaborate system of holding that mail here,” she said.
Setting up large racks that resemble bread or pie racks, “we had trays and trays of mail,” that was unable to be delivered, she said.
At one point, more an estimated 4,009 individual mail boxes were off limits to letter carriers. Due to the power outage, retail services at the Trancas Street location were closed for two days.
In the days after the fires, customers began picking up their mail at the post office. Because of the temporary system, “it was a little slow,” she admitted. While the post office processes thousands of pieces of mail, “We’re not built for storing mail” over days, she said.
“People seem to be very understanding and patient even though they’ve been though a lot,” said Davison.
“We’re all very sorry for what they’ve gone through and we’re trying to be as helpful as we can.”
After roads began to reopen, mail delivery to many Napa homes resumed. The postal employees wanted to get back to their routes, she said.
“They are proud of what they do,” she said. “They want to provide some normalcy in the community.”
However, mail will not be delivered to a home that was destroyed, even if the mailbox itself survived, said Davison.
Those residents will continue to pick up their mail at the Trancas Street station, she said. That process will continue for about two more weeks until a set of freestanding rotary boxes, which look like P.O. boxes, will be installed at the station.
At that point, each resident will get a key to a box where mail intended for their home address can be picked up.
For those who complete a change-of-address form, that request can take up to 14 days to be processed, Davison noted. During such a transition, the mail may be delayed, but it will get to the destination, she said.
Davison said that because some residents have already started forwarding mail to a different address or a P.O. box that about 280 temporary boxes will be needed.
In some regards, the lessons learned from the 2014 earthquake left the post office better prepared to handle this emergency, officials said. In August 2014, a 6.0 earthquake caused the city’s main post office and all of its post office boxes to be closed. The downtown facility never reopened.
“We had some understanding of what we need to do and how to prepare,” said Davison. “We knew we need to come up with long-term solutions.”
While the wildfire emergency reminded her of the aftermath of the 2014 quake, this disaster “was worse than the earthquake because it was more emotional,” she said.
“We had several employees that were evacuated.” The smoke was also difficult, she said. Some employees were unable to work.
Luckily, no Napa postal employees lost a home, she said.
More than a month after the fires, Davison said she’s already noticed that fewer packages are being delivered to addresses affected by the fires. But because the holiday mailing season is right around the corner, parcel lockers will also be installed, said Davison.