‘Stronger and better’ | Survivors remember North Bay Tubbs Fire 5 years later

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) — In North Bay, there was a solemn milestone on Saturday. Five years ago, a wildfire displaced thousands of people in Sonoma and Napa counties and killed dozens of people.

Wildfire survivors gathered to remember what was lost and how far the community has come since the tragedy.

“It was a matter of a few minutes, you had to act and you had to go,” said Santa Rosa resident Oscar Pardo.

Pardo had the same clothes he wore the day he turned his world upside down. On Oct. 8, 2017, a wind-blown firestorm forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate, leaving neighborhoods like Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park devastated. Oscar’s house was destroyed.

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“From the time the fire happened until the next day, it felt like you were sleepwalking through life until you got home,” Pardo said.

The Tubbs Fire was devastating and deadly, killing 40 people across the North Bay, including 24 in Sonoma County. The names of the victims were read aloud at the emotional event, which marked five years since the Tubbs fire.

“The sound of the wind, branches snapping, propane tanks exploding, our neighbors were banging on our doors,” said Susan Gorin, a fire survivor and Sonoma County supervisor.

A scene of chaos, first responders tried to get residents to safety after electronic emergency alert systems failed to alert some who were in harm’s way. Superintendent James Gore admitted mistakes were made.

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“I feel like we weren’t where we needed to be to help at that point,” Gore said.

The fire department says lessons have been learned.

“We look at things differently now, how we respond, how we alert and warn the community and what they do with the information,” Santa Rosa Fire Chief Paul Lowenthal said.

Since the Tubbs fire, about 90% of the homes in Coffey Park have been rebuilt. But some residents are still fighting to return home.

“It’s unbelievable that it took this long,” Lisa Frazee said.

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Frazee’s Wikiup home was destroyed in 2017. Five years later, her newly rebuilt home is almost complete, but the move-in date is still unknown.

“It’s been a process with Covid, with the shortage. It affects everything,” said Frazee.

Many agree that the tragedy of the fire has strengthened this community, made it stronger.

“It’s a little cliche, but Sonoma County has come out stronger and more prepared and more resilient,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers.

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