1 Year Later: Ceremony held to remember fire victims

Santa Rosa and Sonoma County held a ceremony Monday night marking the one year anniversary of the North Bay firestorms.

"Tonight we remember those lost," said state OES Chief Mark Ghilarducci, to a crowd at Old Courthouse Square. "And we celebrate in our community what we've accomplished in just one short year."

A fire bell tolled 44 times, honoring the 44 people who died in last October's disaster. Twenty four of the people who died, were in Sonoma County. 

"Rooms loosened from meaning, walls turning into paper, from the hands of chance," intoned Sonoma County's Poet Laureate Maya Khosla, reading from several of her poems inspired by the fire and the recovery. 

"We the living are awake, to the growth and profusion soon to follow, we will grow," read one excerpt. 
Several hundred people gathered in the square, joined by about a dozen local and state politicians, although none gave speeches. 

It was a night for reflection -and expression- with sidewalk chalk provided to write or draw on the plaza pavement.   

Ghilarducci made brief comments, praising the community's can-do spirit, even before the fires were even out. 

"You said, 'okay what do we have to do to get this going?'" recalled Ghilarducci, "let's get this cleaned up, let's move this forward." 

Recovery has taken root, with many rebuilds in various states of completion in the fire zones. Meanwhile, there are for sale signs throughout neighborhoods in the area.  

"It's really hard. This event has really made you stop and think, 'is this where you want to be?'", survivor Gena Jacob told KTVU.

Jacob and wife Sheri decided only in the past few days, to rebuild their home of 19 years. 

Losing everything, including all the childhood mementos of their college-age daughter, was indescribable. 

"This really brought me to my knees, it was a real gut punch," describes Gena. But on Monday night, the couple was partying with their neighbors in Larkfield Estates.

Amid the flattened lots, lights were erected and tables set-up.

Neighbors enjoyed a band, dancing, and barbeque - with even a bounce house for the kids.

They were focused on celebrating the friendships that fire did not break- but only deepened.   

"It's not a sorrow when we see everyone," said Sheri Jacob, " it's really happy, 'so glad to see you, how are you doing?' and finding out what phase that they're in." 

At the one year mark, therapists say connecting with others is the healthiest way to heal, but emotional impacts will linger. 

"What we know about grief is often the second year anniversary is harder," said Project Hope Director Wendy Wheelwright, who oversees 36 community counselors from different agencies. 

Collectively, they have had approximately 50,000 sessions with people in need since the fires. 

"Some people are naturally resilient, and they come together and they work really hard, and they recover," said Wheelwright, "and some people do better asking for help. Either way is okay."

Since the fires began on October 8,2017 and raged into the next day, other commemorations will be held on Tuesday, including a community gathering in Santa Rosa's Coffey Park.