The Santa Rosa Fires: One Year Later by William (Bob) Williams

October 8, 2018 marked the first anniversary of the devastating fires which consumed Northern Santa Rosa and surrounding areas. Prior to the Camp Fire it was the most damaging fire in California history with over 5,000 buildings lost. Heaviest hit in Santa Rosa were Larkfield, Fountain Grove, the Sonoma Valley and Coffee Park areas. These areas were severely damaged or destroyed. Many friends and family members lost everything. It was a devastating display of nature’s anger.

At least four members of Local 6 lost their homes. Most have yet to rebuild. The process is involved, long, and frustrating. Many people have run up against insurance issues and county permit problems. As one of my musician colleagues said, “It ain’t fun.”

I have played with the Santa Rosa Symphony (SRS) since 1968. Not only our musicians felt the devastation. It effected our board members and many of our patrons. Adult living communities were hard hit. And yet these folks continue to attend our concerts as a means of hearing and feeling beauty in their lives.

One of the venues where SRS plays, the Luther Burbank Center, burned as well. Luckily, the main theater was spared. We were able to play jobs in that building within a month and a half of the fires.

The SRS was in the middle of a conductor search and played a matinee the day the fires started. The candidate, Francesco Lecce Chong did a great job even though his audition was stopped short because of the fires. The repeat concert two days later was canceled! Yet Francesco ended up being the winning candidate to take the baton for the future of the SRS.

The SRS is a sterling example of reaching out and sharing with the community. The Association issued free tickets for first responders and those families that lost homes for the entire season. The orchestra also volunteered to play a community concert to raise funds. We were successful in raising money through that benefit concert pictured on the cover. Through the SRS Education Department, the Symphony was able to donate more than 200 instruments to music students who lost their instruments in the fires. I personally collected and then distributed many instruments to students. There was so much appreciation.

Bob and family collecting donations.

I have spent my entire life here in Sonoma County. It is an area I love and will never leave. But with these fires we have seen some very serious problems for folks needing help with insurance claims and places to live. Rents are “out of sight.” And many have had to make the tough decision to move out of the area. The North Bay Labor Council provided some funds for each of the Local 6 members we had who lost their homes. Many of them have remained in the area and are rebuilding their lives. (See Corinne’s story on page 6.)

The Santa Rosa and Sonoma Country community will never be the same. We have lost much of our heritage, not to mention those locations of winery destruction and other venues that affect our musicians in a severe way. It is truly a sad and problematic issue with so many here in Sonoma County. Yet, this community has pulled together and supported each other throughout the tragedy and continue to do so. “SONOMA STRONG,” where the “LOVE IS THICKER THAN SMOKE.”