Northern California is under siege from yet another bout of destructive wildfires fueled by powerful winds and dry conditions. Thousands were forced to evacuate overnight as flames raced across mountainous terrain into suburban neighborhoods in Napa and Sonoma Counties.
The Shady Fire engulfed at least a dozen homes in the city of Santa Rosa after igniting in nearby Napa Valley Sunday night. Fierce winds pushed flames over vineyard-studded hills into suburban Sonoma County, where emergency responders went door to door overnight ensuring that residents heeded evacuation orders.
About 4,500 members of an assisted-living community were evacuated out of the city early Monday morning as flames encroached.
The Shady fire was sparked by a larger blaze – the Glass Fire – which began burning in Napa County Sunday morning. Embers from that blaze also set off the Boysen Fire southwest of St. Helena. Collectively, the fires have burned more than 36,000 acres and are 0% contained, according to Cal Fire. More than 100 structures have been destroyed.
In Shasta County, the Zogg Fire has consumed more than 40,000 acres in just three days, prompting California Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency. Several nearby counties have issued evacuation orders and warnings, including Butte County, where residents are still recovering from the 2018 Camp Fire. The Zogg Fire is 0% contained.
For Dr. Lisa Ward, the fires conjure up haunting memories of the 2017 Tubbs Fire, which burned roughly 1,500 homes in Santa Rosa and became the most destructive wildfire in California history at the time.
“We’ve been here before. It feels part PTSD and part unbelievable,” said Ward, who is the chief medical officer of Santa Rosa Community Health.
The health center recently completed a rebuild of their facility after the Tubbs Fire torched their site three years ago.
Ward says she expects this round of fires to precipitate a flood of mental health issues as people relive the trauma of past wildfire seasons. Even for Sonoma County’s fire-worn residents, the routine of evacuating while preparing to lose their most valuable belongings is unnerving.
One of Ward’s patients, who was forced out of their home during the Tubbs Fire, called to cancel their appointment Monday, citing severe anxiety and PTSD. “This is an event that is triggering for patients and our providers,” said Ward.
At least three of Santa Rosa Community Health’s staff members have lost their homes in the Shady Fire and over 20 have evacuated.
While the scope of the devastation remains unclear, Ward says she’s concerned for her patients’ well-being. Many are low-income and some regularly struggle to secure basic goods, such as food and housing. For those living on the margins, the financial fallout of a wildfire can be overwhelming and the stress can bring on a host of mental health issues, including anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. The situation is likely to “push people over the edge,” said Ward.
Direct Relief Response
As a California-based nonprofit disaster relief and medical assistance organization, Direct Relief responds each year to wildfires and other emergencies in both its home state and throughout the U.S., and has done so for decades.
After the Tubbs Fire destroyed one of Santa Rosa Community Health’s facilities in 2018, Direct Relief provided the health center with a $500,000 grant to help them rebuild, along with $50,000 in emergency funds and a range of medical supplies.
So far this wildfire season, Direct Relief has supported more than 30 health centers, public emergency response offices, and county health departments across California and the Western U.S. with more than 80 deliveries of protective gear, respiratory aids, ophthalmic products, tetanus vaccines, and other requested medicines and supplies.
Funded entirely with private charitable support, Direct Relief is a longtime partner of the State of California through its Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), serves on California’s Business Operations Center (BOC), and coordinates its wildfire response activities with the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA).