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Dear Sonoma Valley Friends and Neighbors:

It’s been a frustrating, heartbreaking, terrifying week – possibly the worst few days for Sonoma Valley in living memory. And yet, we’ve never been so full of respect and hope for this place and its amazing people.

Since the fires began we’ve seen heroism from every corner of the Valley, even as neighbors and loved ones fled from their homes with their lives and little else. Some are now staying with friends or relatives, others with welcoming strangers, and many thousands are in emergency shelters set up around the county and beyond.

In every case, it is courage, compassion and selflessness that gets us through – and that in some cases saves lives.

One example hit especially close to home. In the early hours of Monday morning, as the fires were spreading and authorities found themselves overwhelmed, our Sugarloaf park manager, John Roney, drove up the mountain to evacuate campers and observatory visitors there. That done, he wearily headed home down Adobe Canyon Road – but at the bottom he encountered two police officers who asked if anyone lived up that road. John told them yes, probably 100 or so people. The officers said those people needed to be evacuated, but that they weren’t able to do it themselves. So John took it upon himself to knock on the doors of houses all the way up Adobe Canyon Road.

Thanks to his efforts, dozens of people were given time to gather their things and escape. Considering the destruction that soon followed, there is every reason to believe John saved lives that night.

Since then many more stories have come through, all of them showing an indomitable spirit that our Valley seems to inspire. Our deepest sympathies go out to people who have lost their homes and possessions, their pets, and in a few cases, their loved ones.

From the perspective of the land itself, our hearts are hurting for the trees, the animals, the hillsides that are burned to ash. Birds are crowding into neighborhoods, having fled the burning hillsides. Wild animals have no house they can go into to escape breathing the smoke. Fires are burning right down into riparian forests dried out from years of drought. We know that in some areas of high-severity fire, even the seedbank in the ground will die. But we’ve seen other areas where the flames stayed low and relatively cool. In these places, the wildflowers next spring will be spectacular, the trees will recover fully, and wildlife will flourish.

We’ll be talking more – with our colleagues and with you, our community – in the coming days about why this happened, and what we can do to reduce the risk of living through something like this again. For now, we do know, from personal experience, the resourcefulness and resilience of the people and the land of this Valley. We will rebuild.