As a resident of the county directly below Sonoma, I’m part of these blackouts, which have become a de rigeur part of life up here. Falls are spent in a panicky fever dream of refreshed weather reports, praying that a random rain shower will temper the Fire Gods. When the fires inevitably break out, we refresh the San Francisco Chronicle’s Fire Tracker, and head to grocery stores and hardware stores and pharmacies to queue up for batteries and ice and crank powered charges and flashlights.
In these crises you stick to your same patterns if only to combat the dread that comes with the seeming randomness and the speed of the fires, which makes everyone here feel like they are one particularly intense Santa Ana wind away from losing a home. And the lack of phone service makes it hard to really know. Two nights ago, under the spell of several counties’ worth of blackout darkness, I woke up at 4:30am to the sound of several coyotes yelping all at once. Even they seemed confused.
Throughout the week leading up to the fires, I’d been up in Sonoma and Napa counties, researching and reporting a story on the food scene there, and the signs and scars from the 2017 Wine Country fires are everywhere: billboards in Glen Ellen thanking first responders for saving their town. Discounts offered to firemen at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto in Napa. This is not some distant memory, but in fact a very recent event that many people are still digging themselves out from under. For these sort of tragedies to repeat themselves so soon seems cosmically inappropriate, a karmic faux pas. But here we are.