Smoke fills the air in this photo taken earlier today at a house in Santa Rosa. (Photo/Anna Wachtel)
Smoke fills the air in this photo taken earlier today at a house in Santa Rosa. (Photo/Anna Wachtel)

Families lose homes as fires rage in eight counties

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Massive wildfires moving across Sonoma and Napa Counties have destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, and forced thousands of people to evacuate. The impact on North Bay Jewish communities has already been felt, with at least four families from Santa Rosa’s Congregation Shomrei Torah having lost their homes to the flames.

“Basically Sonoma County and Santa Rosa is burning,” said Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi George Gittleman. “The synagogue looks like it’s going to be fine, for now at least. All other synagogues in the county as far as I know are OK, but I can’t say for sure.”

The fires started late Sunday, and by Monday at noon had destroyed tens of thousands of acres across eight counties, although Sonoma and Napa are by far the hardest hit.

Gittleman told J. on Monday morning that from his synagogue he could see a skyline of thick black smoke over Santa Rosa. He noted cell phone coverage was spotty, but so far his facility still had electricity and water.

“Our internet is down,” he said. “We sent an email to the congregation off site and using Facebook. We won’t be able to reach out to everyone until the fire is contained. People are scattered all over the place. This is a severe fire disaster.”

Dubbed the Tubbs Fire, the conflagration in and around Santa Rosa has so far torched some 45,000 acres. A K-Mart and multiple other businesses were destroyed in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, and two nearby hospitals were evacuated.

Diana Klein of Jewish Family and Children’s Services Sonoma County, said the Santa Rosa office was closed and had no power.

“We’re not able to open,” she said. “We’re about half a block from the evacuation border.”

The organization has set up a hotline for donations at (415) 449-1256. Klein said that anyone needing assistance could call (707) 303-1500 to be forwarded to the Marin office of JFCS. They are also accepting online donations.

“We know that many people we know have lost their homes or businesses,” she said.

Sonoma’s Camp Newman put out a statement saying that the property has been evacuated but that everyone is safe, and the camp’s Torahs had been removed.

As of this morning, Santa Rosa’s Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County had not been evacuated, but there was no word on whether tomorrow’s scheduled start of the Jewish Film Festival in Sebastopol would happen.

Rabbi Menachem Landa of Chabad Jewish Center of Novato, had been in touch with Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky of the Chabad Jewish Center of Sonoma County and Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum of Chabad of Napa Valley. Both reported they and their families were safe, with the Wolvovsky family voluntarily evacuating west of the fire zone.

“Rabbi Tenenbaum texted me,” Landa said. “There are lots of evacuations in the city but they are still in Napa in case anyone needs assistance.”

Another fire is burning along Napa’s Silverado Trail, consuming more than 10,0000 acres and threatening the area’s vineyards and wineries. Other blazes broke out in Mendocino Country and Alameda County in the North Berkeley Hills.

A fire in Rohnert Park is potentially threatening the homes of congregants of B’nai Israel Jewish Center of Petaluma. Rabbi Ted Feldman was on the phone this morning, trying to get in touch with people in the danger zone.

“I’ve been trying to reach them and make sure they have somewhere to go,” he said.

B’nai Israel closed its preschool today, and synagogue administrator Jennifer March said she had heard that evacuation orders had possibly reached the edges of Petaluma. “This is worrying me big time right now,” she said.

Feldman said he’d be monitoring the situation.

“We’re going to keep reaching people, and we’ll open our building if it’s necessary,” he said.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.