This Saturday, October 8th marks the 5th anniversary of the devastating Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, CA. This fire has altered our community forever. Not only from the remnants of scorched land and still vacant lots from the over 5,000 homes that burned within hours that fateful night but in the collective ethos of our 500,000 residents across the County. Reflecting back, the Tubbs Fire was a turning point for what it meant to live and work in Sonoma County.
Since then, we’ve had three additional major wildfires that have led to massive evacuations and thousands of more homes destroyed. Fires in 2017, 2019, and 2020 burned more than 200,000 acres in Sonoma County, almost 20 percent of the county. We now have an official “fire season” when the community as a whole holds our breath until the first big rain of the fall or winter. And if there are any major winds or heatwaves, we know to expect either rolling blackouts or to have a go-bag with all our important documents and possessions packed.
I grew up in Sonoma County in the 80s and 90s. October was always a lovely time of year. A sweet transition from Second Summer to crisp, cool, and rainy weather. Most of my Halloween costumes were usually sullied by raincoats and boots as it so often poured during Trick-or-Treating. Fall is still a beautiful time of year in our sweet community but it has never been the same since 2017 and likely never will. The weather is increasingly warmer, drier, and windier in October, the perfect recipe for increased fire risk.
This weekend there are several gatherings at locations that were burned around the County in 2017 to commemorate this five-year anniversary. Here at IHAN, we are honoring our five years as an organization by preparing for a potential fire this year and working with our partners on long-term recovery clinics for first responders, Latinx farmworkers, frontline healthcare workers, and fire survivors. The last five years have taught us a lot about how to acclimate to this new normal that so many communities around the globe are also experiencing with increasing climate disasters.
#1: Self-care is non-negotiable. Responding to several fires around Northern California in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic has taught us that if we are to be a truly beneficial presence to others, we have to fill our cup up first. This means consistently working on regulating our nervous system, especially during the “blue sky” times of the year. Meditation, yoga, qigong, nutrient-rich and yummy food, dancing, singing, spending time with people and animals we love, receiving the services we deliver in our clinics, and connecting with nature. We start each team meeting with time to breathe together and time to share from our hearts. All of these things add up so that when the next disaster happens, we feel ready to respond in a good way.
#2: Collaboration and Community are crucial. We love our partners so much, whether it’s our organization partners to run clinics with or our donors who help make this work possible. The best part of the non-profit world is exploring creative ways to bring resources and people together to help fill gaps in care, especially for those most in need.
#3: Preparation eases the mind and helps create better outcomes. When IHAN first started organizing our first clinics during the Tubbs Fire, we were as grassroots as it comes. We had a Facebook Group for practitioners from around the Bay Area to learn how to get involved, we used Google Spreadsheets for folks to sign-up for a shift, and we left hand-written instructions at each evacuation shelter or first responder base camp on how volunteers could safely and effectively deliver care. Now, we recruit and vet volunteers in advance and we have a plethora of trauma-informed training videos specific to disaster scenarios so that our volunteers are equipped with the tools to support the specific communities we provide care for during and after a disaster. We have several go-bags, some that have all the supplies we need to set up a pop-up clinic and some that have our personal possessions in case we also need to evacuate our homes while running clinics, which was the case during the 2019 Kincade Fire.
#4: Kindness is Key. We believe in the power of all of the integrative health and medicine modalities our volunteer practitioners share. Acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, massage therapy, yoga, chiropractic care, nutrition counseling, and meditation all utilize evidence-based approaches to supporting physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and are absolutely essential for effectively supporting individuals who are navigating ongoing collective traumas like climate disaster and pandemics. We have seen incredible transformation and healing in our clinics from these integrative approaches but ultimately, one of the most powerful tools is kindness. Especially in our increasingly-polarized and isolated culture, kindness can help alchemize some of the deepest sorrow, grief, and pain. We've witnessed this firsthand at the evacuation shelters, when someone who has just lost their home to a wildfire and is struggling to figure out what to do next, a kind and compassionate person who is dedicated to doing everything in their ability to help alleviate their pain is everything.
It is quite a time to be a human right now. We are seeing a lot of collective suffering but also a lot of hope and possibilities. The climate crisis is bringing new challenges to communities around the globe. Our hearts are with communities in Florida, Puerto Rico, and Canada right now who are navigating the aftermath of Hurricanes Ian and Fiona. We are still waiting with bated breath as we move through the next few months, praying we are spared from another fire this year. We are proud of the work we have done over the last five years to prepare by building a network, resources, and partners to safely and effectively deliver integrative care to communities on the frontlines of climate disasters.
We are always looking for more volunteers and donors to help continue making this work possible. Thank you for your support.
With warm gratitude,
Jenny Harrow-Keeler, MA
Co-Founder & Executive Director