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Conflagration 

After the fires, what comes next?

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Santa Rosa and the North Bay at large have been devastated by fires that continues to rage, wreaking unfathomable havoc and destruction in their path, as more than 1,500 homes have been destroyed along with numerous businesses, wineries and other iconic structures.

For now, the stories are about individual acts of self-preservation and selfless heroism, but in coming days the smoke will clear and one day not long from now life will resume along a more routinized pattern of normalcy: PG&E will restore power, students will head back to school, cities and counties will assess the damage and celebrate the first responders under a clear blue sky as they remember the awful firestorms of October 2017.

There will be questions, many of them. What could have been done differently to avoid such mayhem? How should Santa Rosa set out to rebuild? What's the total economic damage to the North Bay? Those questions will be addressed in due course, and as the civic order of the day requires, the city will, one hopes, "emerge stronger than ever" from this disaster.

But the urgent and immediate questions pivot on the fact that the city's homeless population has just exploded. Where will they live as their homes are presumably rebuilt?

The average rents in Santa Rosa are already among the highest in the nation, and the price of shelter is about to get a whole lot more expensive as the demand for housing will surely outpace the available local supply.

In the immediate short-term, city and county leaders must act urgently to avoid the inevitable plague of unenlightened self-interest that nearly always attends such disasters. New Orleans after Katrina and in suburban New York after Superstorm Sandy were both plagued by price spikes along multiple fronts: gasoline, bottled water, housing.

Santa Rosa struggled to enact rent-control measures last year, thanks to pressure from the real-estate industry which opposed them. The city hasn't seen anything like the firestorm of price-gouging that awaits once the smoke settles and the evacuation centers empty out. Where will they all go when they've no place to go?

In the meantime, the Bohemian has established a fund administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to support nonprofits working to get Sonoma and Napa counties back on their feet. Donate online at www.rebuildsonomafund.org.

Tom Gogola is news editor of the 'Bohemian.'

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