Napa Valley is incredibly dear to my soul; it is where I was raised, and where my family and I currently live and create. On September 12, this community was unexpectedly & severely affected by the Valley Fire, which burned more than 70,000 acres, including over 1,200 homes, in addition to apartments, multi-family living-units, and a handful of public buildings, leaving 3,000 people homeless and an entire community displaced.
This fire spread rapidly, extending over agricultural land, burning family farms, ranches, vineyards, wineries & livestock; soon becoming the third most destructive fire in California’s history.
With no time to prepare and no looking back, thousands fled their homes, some with car loads of precious belongings and whatever they could grab with a moment’s notice; others with just the clothes on their back. Within a few hours of the fire’s onset the Calistoga Fairgrounds became home to more than 1,000 Lake County residents, now Valley Fire Refugees, who built their temporary homes (for an undetermined amount of time), out of donated tents, sleeping bags & bedding. Calistoga was only one of a few Evacuee Centers.
Through this collective loss we experienced collective trauma, which broke open the hearts of our community. This generated an outpouring of generosity and self-organizing as the displaced joined to rise up together. A new town within the old town of Calistoga was formed. The immediate donations and support were far beyond measure. Hundreds of truckloads of tents, bedding, wearables, edibles, children’s toys, pet food, and every other kind of imaginable necessity were brought in.
Here’s a video I shot at the Calistoga Fairgrounds less than 24 hours of the fire’s onset, that shows what came in. (https://www.facebook.com/sonialove/videos/vb.122505854/10100452891679466/?type=2&theater)
It wasn’t long before the Red Cross began refusing donations at the door, and turning away many truck-loads, while offering no alternative receiving center for materials. This refusal was coupled with their public requests for monetary donations to the Red Cross. It was shocking, then confusing, as we realized that the Red Cross wasn’t capable of stepping up to the high need, and was debatably doing more harm than good.
Rebecca Rowan-Connors put it clearly in her piece “Firefight: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”
Our ever-persistent community members banded together and set up exterior donation centers. The former Calistoga Water Processing Plant became a hub, receiving hundreds of pallets of supplies donated by the surrounding community. Organizing all the donations became a full time job for many volunteers. It would be impossible to mention all the contributors and local residents who stepped up in service because no one really knows who all was there. It was a fast-paced time of familiar and strange faces, all giving whatever they could. We were so many. However, a few stand out for me in the creativity and compassion they offered:
- Calistoga Wellness Center (http://www.calistogawellness.com/) set up a well-received healing oasis (consisting of a couple easy-up tents), & organized volunteer body workers; offering free massages, reiki, chiropractic adjustments & acupuncture treatments. (include images)
- Local Napa Business, The Parlor for Hair Design (http://www.theparlor4hairdesign.com/), offered their services at the Fairgrounds, gifting more than 50 free haircuts and 30 waxings in one day. (include images) (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=991304917558807&id=332524106770228)
- Local veterinarian Jeff Smith, DVM, of Middeltown Animal Hospital (one of the businesses that withstood the fire), continues to provide free treatment for 100% of all Valley Fire related pet injuries. In addition he is also offering care and set up a food receiving and donation center for pets of families who have lost their homes, 100% for free… His contributing link; https://www.gofundme.com/h24mk7qk
- Sunrise Horse Rescue of St. Helena (http://www.sunrisehorserescue.com/) made numerous trips towards the Valley Fire’s blaze, rescuing horses, livestock and other animals, bringing them back to their sanctuary where they were cared for and re-united with their families.
It’s strange but worth mentioning, that disaster can bring out the best in people. I learned a little something about myself. It is times like these that remind me of our common, inherent humanity, bringing me back to feeling one hundred percent human.
After about a week the roads back up to Middletown, Cobb Mountain & Lake County began opening again and the residents started to return. Some, surprisingly found their homes still standing. Others were left to sift through the ashes that remained of their lives.
On September 24, (12 days after the Valley Fire’s onset), the Calistoga Fairgrounds shut down its camps and alternative receiving centers opened in Lake County and the surrounding area.
On a side, and deeply blessed note, my family and I are in the clear of this fire’s path, and we know we are blessed to be waking up at home each morning. For this we are very grateful. However, many of our friends’ homes were not spared, and it has been a communal effort to regroup our community after this loss, sift through the ashes, and prepare to rebuild.
I am an artist, specifically a jeweler by trade, and have always been most passionate about enriching my community (both locally and globally) through art. Devastated to see my community lose their livelihoods, and inspired to help rebuild, I have committed to donate 15% of all my jewelry sales; both from my website (www.sonialub.com), and in person/at shows, directly towards Valley Fire Relief, at least for the rest of this calendar year (2015). I have a list of friends and loved ones who lost their homes to the Valley Fire, and some of which we have already been able to assist. I am asking my community to support me in this endeavor.
Here are three ways:
1) I am forming a database of individuals who have been directly impacted by the Valley Fire. Primarily seeking and directing towards (however not limited to), community members and families who have lost their homes and have no fire insurance coverage or protection. If you, or someone you know has been affected in this way and could benefit from a financial offering, please email; ValleyFireRise@gmail.com
2) I am putting a call out to other artists, creators, business owners, and truly anybody who wishes to take this step with me. If you or someone you know feels inspired to donate a portion of their sales, a piece of art, a service, a gift directly to Valley Fire Relief, please email me here ValleyFireRise@gmail.com. Whatever your medium is, I welcome you to get creative here. No donation is too small/irrelevant, or too large for that matter.
3) Third, if you feel so inclined to support artists who are paying it forward towards rebuilding our community after the Valley Fire; please visit www.ValleyFireRise.org (this site is currently being built, and will be updated daily with new contributors & updates.) There is much to do, and the possibilities are infinite…
~ ~ Let’s Rise Together ~ ~
Humbly & Sincerely,
~ Sonia Lub