Surfers Rally To Aid Victims Of The Sonoma County Fires
A firsthand account of devastation, displacement, and humanity.
“The power went out, it surged back on and when it did all the lights went on. That’s what woke me up. I smelled smoke, looked outside and saw 80-mile-an-hour winds with embers flying through the air. If the lights hadn’t flickered we probably would have died in the fire,” flatly explained one of the victims of the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California.
He and his wife caged their five pet chickens, threw them in their hybrid and left their home.
“We were watching a movie on the couch at 8:00 on Sunday night. We smelled smoked at about 9:00. The call to evacuate came in shortly after 11:00. We grabbed the dog, our computer and our last will and testament.”
From gun shops, to kids' bikes, to wineries, little was left in the wake of the Tubbs Fire.
That’s my mom’s story of her escape from the fire. She’s being modest. She also woke-up the old lady who lives across the street – virtually saving her life.
Late Sunday night I received this text: “There’s been a fire. We’ve been evacuated, but we’re safe.”
Early the next morning, my parent's house burned to the foundation.
The wasteland that used to be the Coffey Park neighborhood.
At present, the Tubbs Fire has killed 15 people and burned through close to 37,000 acres. In total over 20 fires broke out in Sonoma and Napa Counties. The results can only be described as apocalyptic. Entire neighborhoods have burned to the ground. Hotels, shopping centers and homes, all gone in an instant. Now, a week later, as the fires near containment, rough estimates are that more than 6,000 houses displacing upwards of 50,000 people. For reference, there are about 60,000 people currently living in San Clemente.
Growing up along the Sonoma Coast, the biggest surf star we had to look up to was Dale Webster (a.k.a. Daily Wavester, a.k.a. the guy that surfed for 14,641 days straight without missing a session). I’m not sure if he’s still mad at me because I never put him on the cover of SURFER Magazine. I hope not. Living down in San Clemente for the better part of 20 years now, when the fires broke out I received a mass amount of messages and support from friends up and down the state asking what they could do to help.
A handmade sign to help victims while the fire was still burning - just the essentials, for now.
By midweek I told my mom, “I can’t hold back the flood, people want to help.”
My wife and I decided to collect some stuff to bring a little relief to family and friends. We made a Facebook post, listed a few items and directed people to drop off anything they could at her pilates studio in San Juan Capistrano.
Less than 24 hours after hosting the Stoke-O-Rama surf contest, and 48 hours after loading 700 surfboards into a container bound for underprivileged kids in South Africa, Dane Gudauskas was the first to respond. He loaded me up with stacks of new Vans, new jackets, Positive Vibe Warriors tees, blankets and so much other goodness. From there we were rolling.
Small car, lot of loot. One stop at the Gudauskas brothers filled up the Fiat.
We hit the ground running on Saturday. Maverick’s photographer and WSL water safety guru Frank Quirarte met us up there. After pulling a shift at an evacuation center in Napa until 2:00am he rolled into Sonoma with a truck full of goods. He’d also collected relief supplies. We put a plan into action.
My mom’s good friend is the director of human resources at Korbel Champagne and she gave us access to their facility to serve as a distribution point. We put the word out to our network of friends in the Santa Rosa community affected by the fire. Most were still shell-shocked by the torrent of destruction and struggled to begin putting the pieces together.
Our goal was always to provide people with a few necessities and help them get back on their feet: A couple articles of clothing, toiletries, a blanket, a case of water, etc. Because there are so many people currently living out of their cars or couch surfing at friends’ homes, it was important not to overload them, but still provide them with enough comfort and support to help them start moving forward.
Handing out relief supplies at the Korbel Champagne facility in Santa Rosa.
The Red Cross, FEMA, the National Guard, churches and other community relief groups are hard at work, but something that Jon Rose at Waves For Water taught me was that surfers are exceptionally well suited for working in disaster zones. They’re resourceful. They’re used to inserting themselves into different communities. They typically stay cool under pressure. Plus, for some reason they assume rules don’t apply to them.
To see such an epic crew of surfers, young and old, step up over these past 72 hours, just shows, it’s not always about riding waves.
Sitting in the Russian River Brewery yesterday, enjoying a cold Pliney after so much chaos, a sign in the window read, “The love in our hearts is thicker than the smoke in the air.”