Where were you the night of October 8, 2017? It’s been one year since the firestorm swept through Napa and Sonoma counties, leaving a staggering toll of lost lives, homes and businesses in its path. Whether you were impacted by the firestorm directly or indirectly, that night and the early morning hours that followed is an experience that touched thousands of lives.
There’s a powerful documentary that you’ve got to see. But brace yourself for Stephen Seager’s “Urban Inferno;” it vividly captures those first horrific hours of last year’s firestorm. Stephen’s years of documentary film experience fueled his need to tell our community’s story with a tempered, in-the-moment portrayal. As he was chased by flames from his own home in Santa Rosa, Stephen knew he had to put this experience to the test. All the fear, loss and anxiety associated with these fires returns in this 39-minute documentary. It has already won at The South American Cinematic Arts Festival and The Las Vegas Film Festival. It was a featured entry at Danville’s recent California Independent Film Festival, and is submitted for entry at Sundance, Tribeca, Cannes and 30 other global film festivals.
As a long-time doctor of psychiatry, Dr. Seager expresses the emotions of those hours rather than regurgitating the cold facts we’ve read over and over again. This is not your typical clipped-from-the-headlines rendering, but a story delivered on film by someone who lived through the experience. Dr. Seager painstakingly captures for his audience those early hours of an entire community on fire. His wife, Dr. Mette Seager, a physician at Kaiser, along with Amaturo Sonoma Media Group’s Michael O’Shea and Pat Kerrigan, filled out the production team with their own unique insights and perspectives.
News/Talk KSRO Radio was ground zero during those early clutch hours; the framework of Seager’s documentary captures both the emotions and devastation of those terrible first hours of the Tubbs fire. For many who went to see “Urban Inferno” on the big screen, they walked away with a clearer understanding of how just a few critical decisions saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives. Since the film premiered on July 17, more than $31,000 has been raised from ticket sales for The Community Foundation’s Resilience Fund. For some, “Urban Inferno” will taste like a bitter pill. For many, it was one more step in the healing process.
Living in California these days is a much like living in a tinderbox. But is this the new normal? Is our beloved North Bay looking at years and years of continuous fires? Last year’s Tubbs fire was by no means our last fire. And in August, our counties were surrounded by even more powerful blazes. At 420,000 acres, the Mendocino Complex fire is the biggest firestorm in state history by a long shot. In fact, it’s 45 percent larger than any other fire in California history. As of this writing, the Mendocino Complex fire is 97 percent contained, but we’re still weeks away from rain season, so we hold our breath and wait. We have no answers to resolving this; only questions.
In the meantime, we’re working together to rebuild our community. In this issue, editor Karen Hart sits down with the three individuals who have taken on the colossal task of rebuilding Sonoma County—David Guhin, assistant city manager and director of planning and development; Tennis Wick, director of Permit Sonoma, County of Sonoma; and Keith Woods, chief executive officer, North Coast Builders Exchange. They share the progress that’s been made in the past year and their vision for the future. The feature, “One Year Later,” by writer Jean Doppenberg takes an in-depth look on the decision-making process and challenges faced by a few North Bay survivors.
No matter where you were on the night of October 8, 2017, no doubt it’s an experience that will remain with you a lifetime. But if there was a gift in this horrifying experience, it is the resilience of the people who live here—the first responders who left their families in the middle of the night to drive into the firestorm to save our community; those who work in law enforcement who helped turn chaos into order as people evacuated from their homes; the businesses who opened up their doors to provide food, clothing and essentials to the public; and all the kindnesses, large and small, bestowed by the citizens who live here and make the North Bay what it is today.
I hope you find this issue both informative and inspirational, as you and your loved ones reflect on how far we’ve come since October 2017. In the meantime, thanks for your letters. Your thoughts are always welcome at Lawrence@northbaybiz.com.
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