Erica and Wade Ramey were newlyweds when the Tubbs fire destroyed the home they shared with Erica’s dad in October 2017. Along with the house, the tools that Wade used for his furniture building and refurbishing business also went up in flames – which means he effectively lost his job as well. And to add further insult to already serious injury, the family had no insurance on either their home or their property, leaving them no recourse for help in rebuilding their home.
Thankfully, they’ve gotten a lot of support since then. Family members donated to a GoFundMe campaign that allowed them to put a down payment on a new home; gift cards and emergency aid provided via the UpValley Family Centers (with thanks to the Calistoga Firefighters Association) helped them meet more immediate needs; and a UVFC Disaster Case Manager has been helping them connect with other fire survivor resources. Since losing his tools Wade has been helping Erica in the flower shop she runs, allowing them both the flexibility they need to focus on their rebuilding effort. The Rameys haven’t quite made as much progress on that effort as they’d like to, though: they’re still waiting to move into their new house, for example, due to delays on the part of their overextended contractor. But they’re hopeful that the house will be ready by the end of this month, and optimistic about returning to a sense of normalcy in the foreseeable future.
Next week is the second anniversary of the North Bay wildfires, which burned through large parts of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, and Solano counties in late 2017. The Tubbs fire alone went on record at the time as the most destructive in California’s history, and nearly all of us have first-hand stories about its impact – about homes and belongings destroyed, work hours or entire jobs lost, savings depleted, or debt mounted. Many members of our community are just now returning to a sense of stability. Others, like the Rameys, still haven’t fully recovered.
In the two years since, wildfires have only gotten worse, and California’s bracing for what more will come – as our climate keeps getting warmer and drier, and as the high cost of living pushes more and more people into fire-prone areas.
But we’ve also learned a lot in the past two years about how to respond to a wildfire disaster, and what it takes to recover from its impact. The Napa Valley Coalition of Organizations Active in Disaster, or COAD, is working hard to incorporate those lessons into new and improved disaster response plans for the county. An important lesson from previous disasters, for example, is that community-based organizations have a crucial role to play in those plans as a trusted and on-the-ground resource for their constituents: they can make sure that government agencies are made aware of what residents need, and that county resources are efficiently distributed to everyone who needs them – including those who are isolated or otherwise vulnerable. And so one of the COAD’s primary goals over the past two years has been to work with government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector to put collaboration agreements and communications systems in place ahead of time – so that when the next disaster hits, everyone will be ready to jump into action quickly and efficiently.
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Perhaps an even more important lesson learned in previous disasters is the difference that good preparation can make in helping a community respond and recover. That’s why the UpValley Family Centers, as an active member of the COAD, is doing what it can to make sure the upvalley community is as prepared as it can be for future emergencies. We partner with the Cities of Calistoga and St. Helena to participate in local preparedness resource fairs – and with support from funders like the American Red Cross and the Rose Foundation, UVFC also hosts regular disaster preparedness workshops of its own. These events are bilingual and free, and cover things like how to make a family emergency plan, what should go into a good disaster or evacuation kit, how to reduce fire-risk in and around your home, and where to go for information and resources when disaster does hit again.
UVFC has also created a resource page on its website, where visitors can find tips and information in English and Spanish about preparing for wildfires and other emergencies (http://upvalleyfamilycenters.org/wildfire-power-shutoff-resources/). In partnership with PG&E, UVFC also provides information on this page about Public Safety Power Shutoffs – which can certainly help prevent wildfires, but can also be disruptive, especially for people who live in isolated areas (where it often takes longer for power to come back on), or who depend on electronic medical devices.
The Rameys are taking the importance of preparation to heart: before even having had a chance to move in to their new house, they’ve made sure it’s fully insured. They’ve also put together an emergency preparedness bag and have a generator installed on their property, so they can keep the lights on during preventive power shut-offs.
Helping the community prepare for disaster also means making sure that UVFC and its partner agencies have their own preparedness plans in place. That includes an up-to-date Emergency Operations protocol, as well as any equipment and resources that an organization might need to keep functioning and support the community in the midst of disaster – anything from generators and camping tables to easy-up tents, first-aid kits, and – last but not least – a disaster fund (generously provided by the Napa Valley Community Foundation). And finally, organizational preparedness includes capacity- and skill-building: trainings coordinated by the COAD are helping to ensure that front-line staff at community organizations like UVFC are knowledgeable about local response and recovery resources, prepared to support clients who have gone through trauma, facilitate recovery for people with special needs, and more. This month, for example, COAD will be facilitating a Mind-Body Skills workshop, which will teach a few different methods for managing stress and trauma.
If you are interested in learning more about preparing for disaster, or what UVFC is doing to support the Upvalley community, please visit our website or give us a call at (707) 965-5010. If you are interested in supporting community disaster preparedness in Napa County or learning more about the COAD’s upcoming Mind-Body Skills workshop, please visit the Napa Valley COAD website at http://napavalleycoad.org.