Jared Wiltse . Carol Mancke . Trena Noval
I think it’s best to start at the end of this extraordinary week of events commemorating the wildfires of Sonoma County last October that earned the designation of the the most destructive wildfire in California history.
For me the last event, Tuesday night the 9th at Coffey Park, where about 500 people gathered in the dark was such a tangible expression of solidarity, hope and love that I was swept away in it. Especially when the President of Coffey Strong, Pamela Van Halsema said, “We’re going to sit on these front porches we’re building and we’re going to greet each other by name, because we know each other now and we can call each other friend.” I actually caught myself feeling jealous that these families, who had lost so much, but actually had gained something that few neighborhood groups can claim.
It was of course too dark for me to sketch, so I did this one from a picture I took. Almost half of the 1,321 homes that were lost that night last October are being rebuilt now, many completed or almost, making the neighborhood an active construction site.
There were moments of silent prayer for the five neighbors who lost their lives in the fire that night. Poems were read and music played to lead the crowd through memories to hope. Even in the dark I ran into a couple of the people whom I had sketched and once again felt that connection of love and hope.
Back to the earlier events: Last weekend began at Shiloh Park with an event sponsored by the Parks and Rec. Dept., Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together. Twelve sketchers showed up to help capture Fire Stories. We had a sign and binder of fire sketches and badges so that people would know who we were.
The opening ceremony took place under the oaks where Aztec Dancers and drummers did a healing ceremony and dances calling on Mother Earth, bowing to the four directions, and even involving the audience to join in a spiral dance.
Some of the sketchers captured the life and color of the dancers. You’ll find their sketches on the new SketchingFireStories website!
Some of us stood at a table in the activities area and invited people to look at the sketches in a binder. Kyle had come with his band from Elsie Allen H.S. to play in the closing for the day. Penny Hastings, who was there to help interview, knew Kyle and had her pad ready to record his account of the fire, leaving me free to do a quick sketch. He started out by downplaying his story, I think because he didn’t lose his own house. But he had become one of the first responders, spending days helping out at the high school evacuation center after getting his family to safety.
Next Penny and I interviewed/sketched Holly, whom I had met in Coffey Park. Holly and her husband are now rebuilding the Coffey Park house they lost in the fire. She was one of the legions of people who endured multiple fire related traumas that first week of the fire. She was glad to have come to the Anniversary event. But on the way there she received a Code Red Alert on her phone, which triggered fear. Dry winds blowing on a low humidity day has become an ominous reminder.
On Monday the 8th Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa was the scene of another anniversary event where children and adults were decorating the plaza with chalk drawings and words. City and county officials were there along with the firefighter’s honor guard. Senator Mike McGuire was going around handing out what looked like homemade cookies! May Khosia, our poet laureate read her poetry, and a fire fighter rang the memorial bell for all the souls in our county and the tri-county area who lost their lives in the fires.
On Tuesday morning I got to hear my favorite radio show, KQED Forum with Michael Krasny, live at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. In the two hours of the program no stone was left unturned in discussing all the issues raised by the North Bay fires that challenged all assumptions about disaster preparedness, from fire fighting to insurance to rebuilding, communications and so much more. You can listen to it here.
I was sitting in the front row, but the stage was big and I couldn’t read the name cards or see facial features clearly. I’ve learned to just approximate my drawings, and I apologize to the speakers! Listening while sketching, writing in between, trying to get the main points but missing many of them. . .I must say that it’s a challenge that makes the time fly by! The group above was in the first hour.
And then a whole new seating of illustrious experts arrived in the second hour. I was so impressed with the passion and dedication of all the speakers. They admitted that yes, we are not ready for another Tubbs Fire, but we’re doing everything we can to fight the battles that need fighting to bring resources to bear. And here’s what you, the home-owner can do.
And so, here we are in the lovely month of October, with tree colors starting to flame. With no firestorms, but also no complacency about that, because we remember too well. We’re a community still needing years more of healing and recovering from last October. But I think the anniversary events helped those who lost homes and jobs, as well as those who didn’t. If there is such a thing as a shared spirit of hope, this community has it.
I hope you’ll visit the Sketching Fire Stories website, Facebook page of the same name and Instagram #sketchingfirestories to see more of our group’s sketches!
Last night I attended an event for the Latino Community to share experiences of the firestorms last October. KRCB in conjunction with KBBF were the hosts and there was dinner and entertainment. It was a great opportunity to listen to and sketch “Fire Stories”.
Trio Orion was a perfect way to warm up the crowd. I learned that KBBF radio provided the only translation of fire disaster information to the Spanish speaking community that was experiencing the same terror and uncertainty as the rest of Santa Rosa.
Patty Ginochio, of Ginochio’s Kitchen in Bodega Bay talked about the throngs of fire evacuees that filled the roads and later the beaches in the wake of the fires. Many of them were Spanish speakers who were afraid to go to the shelters closer to Santa Rosa because they feared deportation. But she also spoke of the overwhelming support provided them by the community in the days that followed.
Irma Garcia spoke eloquently about the need for government and other agencies to be better prepared to understand and respond to the needs of the Latino community that works so hard and makes such a large contribution to our county.
Some middle school girls read their poems about the fire. And then individuals shared their anxiety the night of the fires and their difficulty coming to terms with their post-fire lives.
My pen and brush were moving like mad to try to record all this while my heart filled with compassion for these folks. I hope we all do a better job of watching out for all the people in our community whenever the next disaster appears, regardless of citizenship, language or economic status.
If you think you’d like to sketch fire stories like these please join us on Saturday Oct 6 at the Shiloh Park Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together. And please sign up at the Meet Up site where there’s more information, and so we know you’re coming.
If you’ve been following along here then you know that, along with a small group of urban sketcher friends, I’ve been doing reportage sketching of our firestorm aftermath since last October, telling the visual stories of the scarred landscape, the first responders and the people who lost so much.
In the process I’ve experienced an increased feeling of connection with my community. Ironically, even though we are told that firestorms are now “the new normal” of weather patterns, I have a greater sense of security as a result of hearing stories of such bravery and the loving responses of communities of friends and even strangers. Even though I didn’t lose my home, the “fire news” has become a personal thing for me.
On Saturday I attended a round table discussion of artists whose art in response to the fires was in the From Fire Love Rises exhibition now showing at the Sonoma Valley Museum. Listening and sketching I felt intimately connected to their pain and loss, but also to their experience of the healing and redemptive aspects of art making. You may have noticed that almost every art venue is showing fire related art right now!
For all these reasons I decided I wanted to share this experience with others like yourself and see if our group can’t grow into a larger reportage effort called “Sketching Fire Stories”. If you think you might be interested, please read further.
If you’ve taken any of my workshops, you may be ready for one form or another of this reportage sketching! You can learn about it “on the job” so to speak. And here’s the invitation.
If you are an artist, illustrator, sketcher, writer, and/or friendly good-listener, please join us for Sketching Fire Stories at the Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together on Sat., Oct. 6, 11am-2pm at Shiloh Regional Park in Windsor, CA We will have a table set up with information about how you can participate. The “stories” we collect will be posted on social media and wider, including pop-up art shows in the coming months.
You may wish to sketch the many activities at the event, the people, or the nature areas recovering from the fire. We will also be pairing up into interviewer/sketcher teams to do portraits of people who wish to share how the fires affected them, and what has given them hope in the last year. (see examples of this from Sketching Climate Stories) You might prefer to interview and take notes to be added to the sketches.
If you’re interested, please contact me and I’ll give you more information! Or visit the Meet Up posting about the event and sign up there. This is such a satisfying way to connect with the community, to help with the healing, and to participate in socially conscious art making!
It all started with the article in the Press Democrat showing Bettina and Carole and I sketching out on the streets of Coffey Park, that famously unfortunate neighborhood of fleeing souls that lost 1200 homes in one night in last October’s firestorm in Santa Rosa, CA.
Sasha saw the article and contacted us to see if we could do a similar “fire story sketch” of Kevin’s (her fiance) home that burned that night. The idea was to try to do something showing the passage of time.
I started by sketching what was the present moment of the new home coming up on a street which was busy with construction.
Of all the neighborhoods in Santa Rosa that burned in that fire, Coffey Park is way ahead in efforts to rebuild. You can see the Coffey Strong signs everywhere that express a kind of neighborhood “united we stand” sentiment that has proved to be so vital to the spirit of healing and renewal.
Sasha wanted another sketch showing the possession that Kevin was the most distressed to lose in the fire – his shiny new red motorcycle! Luckily she had a photo of the motorcycle before and after, as well as a before the fire photo of the house. I was able to combine all three in this rendering.
Sasha invited me to come after work to see how the house was coming along, meet Kevin, give them the sketches, and watch the Coffey Strong neighbors greeting each other for their “walk the neighborhood” and potluck gathering. There were smiles and hugs and picture taking and exchanges of information about how the construction is going, decisions that are being made, etc. It felt like the kind of survivor’s club I’d want to be a member of.
Kevin and Sasha are told the house will be finished by Christmas. I sure hope Kevin has a motorcycle under the tree!