By Sam Lynam
On Sunday October 8th, numerous wildfires ravaged communities throughout the North Bay. The conditions were rough, the worst our region has ever seen. Smoke filled the air, making it difficult to breathe for even the healthiest people. The dangerous conditions created extreme destruction throughout Sonoma and Napa counties.
Locally, the impact was devastating, ranging from dangerous air quality to businesses and schools being inoperational due to fire damage or risk of fires potentially affecting the area.
With over 150,000 acres burned, we can already see most of the damage that had occurred, yet the final damage is still being examined. Over 40 people have been reported dead in addition to dozens of people still missing. The numerous wildfires also burned over 8,000 structures. In total, there was more than $1 billion in damages.
With all the ruined buildings, such as hospitals, homes, schools and businesses, the damage is shocking. Much of the Napa and Sonoma region was evacuated for safety and to save people’s lives.
Novato High science teacher Doug Addis discussed the struggles in the affected areas.
“I have a number of friends that live up in the Sonoma County area. One of them owns a horse ranch, and she is currently hosting 120 animals on her property, and I work with two people who had to evacuate their homes,” said Addis.
With the impacted areas being so close to the Novato Unified School District, many of the teachers, students, and even parents of students have been affected by these fires. At Novato High, the impacts were noticeable with students protecting themselves by wearing masks and even not attending school for fear of future health issues.
It was a stressful time for Petaluma resident and English teacher Nicole Slavin, who experienced the sad reality of the situation.
“I had to pack everything I loved and put them in my van, which wasn’t really much. It surprised me how few boxes I needed to pack up what I thought was essential,” Slavin said. “It was just stressful, it was very stressful.”
Recently, many of the schools in and around the affected areas were canceled due to poor air quality and safety concerns for the students. The fires made it very hard for all students to function during school hours and the conditions made it very hard to focus in class.
Senior Simone Peretz spoke about the impact the fires had on her life.
“My grandma’s house(was affected by the fire); she actually had to move in with my aunt. Her house didn’t get burned down but the area they were in wasn’t safe,” said Peretz.
With all these destructive events, people at Novato High were noticeably affected. It seemed as if the attitude of the students was gloomy and sad compared to what it usually is. There was no more constant buzz or excitement in the hallway, but rather quiet whispers by small groups of kids. Students were instructed to remain indoors throughout the entire school day.
Addis spoke about the vibe on campus and the attitude of the students.
“You could tell it was just subdued, and I chose to come to work and stay with it,” Addis said. “I thought it was really important for students to focus on what was right in front of them and try not to get caught up in the trauma of it, though it was a horrific event. I thought it was important to carry out the actions of the school.”
With the health concerns and poor attendance, the Novato Unified School District decided to cancel all events that happened over the weekend of October 13th. People believed the district did the right thing because of the dangerous conditions people had to deal with, especially the people that were directly involved.
Slavin described her personal experience of dealing with the stress that came with the wildfires.
“From Monday morning on, every day was a decision should I go to school should I stay home, and obviously our kids were out of school. There was just a lot of tension and stress,” Slavin added.
During this tragedy, we saw how people reacted throughout such a horrible disaster. Many people showed compassion and care for the people affected, with donation centers asking for volunteers rather than donations because people of the North Bay were so generous they didn’t need anymore donations. Rather, they needed hands to distribute the donated resources. At Novato High, we saw people who were fearful of the conditions but ready to help the wildfires victims. Additionally, the first responders were able to limit casualties and limit damage to affected areas.
Without the support throughout the communities, the impact and results could have been much worse.