At an empty lot in the former fire zone, new green growth mixes with charred remains of trees, April 2018. (Photo/Rob Gloster)
At an empty lot in the former fire zone, new green growth mixes with charred remains of trees, April 2018. (Photo/Rob Gloster)

One year later, the North Bay fires still hurt

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It has been a year since the skies choked with smoke and fires raged across the North Bay. The Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, along with other nearby blazes in October 2017, will endure in our collective memory as one of the worst local disasters in recent years.

As our story this week, the fires killed 22 people, burned 36,000 acres and destroyed 5,600 structures, leaving thousands homeless. The Tubbs Fire also wiped out URJ Camp Newman, leaving next to nothing standing on the site but the ark that held the Torah and the Magen David perched on a hillside above the camp.

While the destruction of Camp Newman was arguably the biggest Jewish headline, the fire’s impact on the Bay Area Jewish community was broad and deep. Jews were among the dead. Jewish families were among the thousands who lost homes and businesses.

But as unforgettable as the disaster may have been, so, too, was the heroic response. Even as the flames raged, the Jewish community stepped up big time.

It was local synagogues, such as Congregations Shomrei Torah, Ner Shalom and Beth Ami, providing food, shelter and emergency child care, with volunteer help from other North Bay shuls. It was the Sonoma branch of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which assisted fire victims with emergency funds and advice on navigating insurance claims.

And let us not forget Bay Area Jewish Federations, which launched a massive fundraising effort. The Federations raised more than $1 million, almost all of it from community members, which went mainly to local agencies and synagogues to strengthen infrastructure and help mitigate the financial impact on their bottom lines, and to support trauma recovery community-wide. Yes, we took care of our own, but we also played our part in helping all affected families.

This has been a year of healing, though the pathway has not been easy. Some who lost homes chose not to rebuild and had to leave the neighborhoods they loved. Some have been left exasperated, contending with insurance companies. And still others have remained dependent on FEMA to get by, aid that runs out in a few months. What will the families do then?

There is no smoothing over the rough spots of this tragedy. Despite the passage of time, scars will remain. In these and other ways, the community was there.

But we can give thanks that life does go on. The community is healing, and once again we have demonstrated that our commitment to go from strength to strength is not just talk. It’s about deeds as well.

J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens editorials as the voice of J.