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Sonoma County Declares Emergency Status 

Earmarks Funds for Immediate Response

click to enlarge The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors held an emergency meeting Thursday morning at Rohnert Park’s City Hall.

Will Carruthers

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors held an emergency meeting Thursday morning at Rohnert Park’s City Hall.

At an emergency meeting at Rohnert Park’s City Hall, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an infusing of cash and declared a local emergency on Thursday morning.

The meeting, which lasted just over two hours, was fundamentally one of the comparisons. Supervisors and emergency responders spoke about the differences between the 2017 wildfires and the current Kincade Fire.

Fundamentally, the response to the current was much more effective, despite the massive size of the fire and force of the winds spurring it on. As of Thursday morning, the Kincade Fire is 60 percent contained, according to Jonathan Cox, a CAL FIRE representative.

“The 2017 fires were like this horrific, apocalyptic nightmare and this fire was more like a bad dream when at some point in that dream, you realize you can change the script…” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. “As awful as a fire always is, that we have some control over it.”

The supervisors unanimously passed motions to declare a local state of emergency and set aside $2.5 million to fund immediate responses to the Kincade Fire.

During her closing comments, Supervisor Lynda Hopkins also compared the response of public agencies to the Kincade Fire with the response of PG&E, the much-criticized, investor-owned utility which shut off electricity and gas service to hundreds of thousands of customers across California as part of its Public Safety Power Shutoff program.

Successful Response

Members of the CAL FIRE team said that response to the incident was remarkably successful compared to the October 2017 wildfires that tore through multiple North Bay counties destroying thousands of homes.

Although the Kincade Fire has burned over 75,000 acres, there have been no fatalities so far and far fewer damaged or destroyed buildings.

Two firefighters were hospitalized for fire-related injuries. One is still receiving care in a Sacramento hospital, the other has been released.

“This has to be one of the complex incidents in my career and in California history. To have a major wildlands fire, three separate… weather events [and] challenges we faced,” Jeffery Veik, a CAL FIRE division chief.

Federal Disaster Declaration Unlikely

Unlike the 2017 fires, the Kincade Fire is unlikely to qualify for a major president disaster declaration, which would allow for individual financial aid from the federal government, according to Christopher Godley, the county’s emergency manager.
In order to qualify, the county would need to prove that there was an excess of $54 million of damages to public infrastructure. Currently, that seems unlikely, according to Godley.

“We’re not there, to be quite honest,” Godley said.

Godley said the county has already applied for $479,000 in state funding and expects to apply for more.

PG&E Criticized

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents western Sonoma County, chastised the utility for its apparent lack of communications capability during the disaster.

“I hope that after the dust settles that we can hold our corporations as accountable as we held government in 2017. These widespread power outages create critical life stage concerns,” Hopkins said towards the close of the meeting.

Hopkins added that she was forwarded to the county-funded 211 help-line when she called the utility’s public service phone number with questions about when gas service would be restored in Sebastopol.

“It should not be that for-profit corporations get to privatize the profits and then socialize the costs [of emergency response phone lines],” Hopkins said.

Richard Hadley, a government relations representative for PG&E, did not have an immediate response to Hopkins’ question about gas service but said he would stay in touch with the supervisor throughout the day.

Earlier, Hadley had said that the utility’s emergency response director has estimated that service will be turned on later today for some parts of the county.

Approximately 500 additional utility workers from Southern California and Nevada have been rushing to the county to assist with line inspections as the utility continues to turn gas and electricity service back on, according to Hadley.

“They should be at work now,” Hadley said as the meeting wound down.
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