'Stronger and better' | Survivors remember North Bay Tubbs Fire 5 years later

ByCornell Barnard via KGO logo
Sunday, October 9, 2022
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Five years ago, the raging Tubbs fire displaced thousands in Sonoma and Napa counties, killing dozens of people. Survivors remember after five years.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- In the North Bay, a solemn milestone was marked Saturday. Five years ago, a raging wildfire displaced thousands in Sonoma and Napa counties and killed dozens of people.

Wildfire survivors gathered to remember what was lost and how far the community has moved forward since the tragedy.

"It was a matter of minutes, you had to act and you just had to go," said Oscar Pardo, Santa Rosa resident.

Pardo wore the same clothes he did the day his world turned upside down. Oct. 8, 2017, when a wind-whipped firestorm forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate, leaving neighborhoods like Santa Rosa's Coffey Park in ruin. Oscar's home was destroyed.

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"Ever since the fire happened until the next day, it felt like you were sleepwalking through life up until the time you have your house back," Pardo said.

The Tubbs Fire was destructive and deadly, killing 40 people across the North Bay, including 24 in Sonoma County. The victims' names were read out loud at this emotional ceremony, marking five years since the Tubbs Fire.

"We were notified by the sound of the wind, branches snapping, propane tanks exploding, our neighbors pounding on doors," said Susan Gorin, wildfire survivor and Sonoma County supervisor.

A scene of chaos as first responders tried to move residents to safety after electronic emergency alert systems failed to notify some in harm's way. Supervisor James Gore acknowledged that mistakes were made.

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"I'm sorry we weren't there where we needed to help you at that time," Gore said.

The fire department says lessons have been learned.

"We look at things differently now, how we respond, how we alert and warn the community and what they do with the information," said Santa Rosa Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal.

Since the Tubbs Fire, about 90% of homes in Coffey Park have been rebuilt. But some residents are still struggling to get home.

"It's incredible it's taken this long," said Lisa Frazee.

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Frazee's home in Wikiup was destroyed in 2017. Five years later, her newly rebuilt house is almost done but a move-in date is still unknown.

"It's been a process with COVID, with shortages. All of that affect it," said Frazee.

Many agree the firestorm tragedy has galvanized this community, making it stronger.

"It's a bit cliche but Sonoma County has emerged stronger and better prepared and more resilient," said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers.

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