It could have been worse.
As the Kincade Fire swept through Sonoma County, the response from firefighters and officials was magnificent. Large-scale evacuations, though traumatic, were done in a strikingly orderly manner, and as of midweek there were no reports of death or injury to civilians (although two firefighters suffered burns).
Contrast this scene with the last two wildfire seasons.
The Tubbs Fire of 2017 devastated Santa Rosa, took out Camp Newman and killed 22; the Camp Fire of 2018 destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise and killed 85.
Clearly, stakeholders in California have learned from bitter experience. So has the Bay Area Jewish community, which immediately sprang into action as the Kincade Fire spread.
It’s time for Northern Californians to rethink who should manage their power grid.
Sonoma County congregations kept tabs on evacuated congregants or those in blacked-out neighborhoods, finding shelter for them across the Bay Area. Sixty families from Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto offered home hospitality to members of Beth Ami in hard-hit Santa Rosa. Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which played a key role during the Tubbs Fire, jumped in to help. JCCs across the Bay Area opened their doors, offering free showers and cellphone charging. The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation is standing ready to assist, as it did after the previous fires.
Though the Kincade Fire is still burning, it’s not too soon to contemplate a change at PG&E. After the 2010 PG&E gas line explosion that ravaged a San Bruno neighborhood and killed eight, the utility company’s direct culpability in starting the Camp Fire, and early indications pointing to another PG&E power line triggering the Kincade Fire, it’s time for Northern Californians to rethink who should manage their power grid. Surely this debate will heat up in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, with climate change contributing to our increasingly dangerous wildfires and extreme weather events, it is essential that we examine our lives and how we live in the world. The last three tragic fire seasons have come soon after the High Holidays, allowing us to engage in that necessary self-reflection through the Yom Kippur prayers and the temporary sukkah we build — all reminders of our fragility and impermanence.
Unlike generations past, we cannot take the health of our planet for granted. Too much is at stake. We must continue adapting to the new reality, finding ways to take care of the Earth that sustains us.
With all our hearts, we thank the firefighters, first responders and other officials who work tirelessly to keep us safe.