Wine Country Fires, three weeks post

- Three weeks ago, the Bay Area was reeling from a swarm of major fires that seemed, and for a while were, unstoppable. 

One thing is for sure: if Wine Country did not have all its vineyards that proved themselves as effective firebreaks, the destruction would have been far worse. So, what are now wastelands will soon rise again. 

I asked Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey and Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Shirlee Zane: where we are right now? "At the very beginning of a huge pile of work," said Mayor Coursey. "We are on recovery mode, full speed ahead," said Supervisor Zane.

First order of business is housing for those who lost homes or apartments. "Immediate and then transitional housing," Coursey said. 

Even before the fires, Sonoma County had only a 2% vacancy rate, which had already brought tent camps into central Santa Rosa. Now, thousands more need housing that currently is not available or does not exist, not just for residents, but contractors and others who will do the rebuilding. 

FEMA is bringing in 500 mobile units and trailers as well as other local efforts to find housing such as vacation rentals AirBnB's, trailers, tiny homes and so forth. 

Second order is to clean up remnant household toxics from the 6,000 burned out Sonoma County properties. Last week alone in Santa Rosa, the EPA inspected 700 home sites, cleaned up 500 of them and will double the number of crews this week. 

"There are people who are ready to start pounding nails on a new house right now and, God, I understand that. I would be the same way if I has lost my house. But, we need to go through probably three months at least of a cleanup before anybody can start rebuilding," said Mayor Coursey.

It will rain late this week, and that can present some issues. "There certainly is a sense of urgency to beat the rains, especially with the toxic cleanup," Coursey said. 

"We're very concerned about runoff and what rain means to our debris removal," said Supervisor Zane.

Hay bales and other barriers to protect streams are being installed now. As rebuilding begins, eliminating red tape will be the rule. "If what you want to do is rebuild your house in the same foot print, to the same height, we're gonna get out of your way," said Coursey. 

"We have to be efficient. We have to be aware of time and costs and that time costs money when you're developing," said Zane.

Many of those contractors will have to take a 40 hour course to learn how to remove debris laden with toxics such as asbestos before they can lift a shovel. 

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