SANTA ROSA (CBS/AP/BCN) — It will take at least months and likely years to fully recover from devastating wildfires that ripped through Northern California earlier this month, destroying at least 8,900 structures and killing 42 people, Sonoma County officials said Saturday.
“We don’t control these things, and it makes you realize how small you are in the world when something like this happens,” Sheriff Rob Giordano said. “I don’t think we understand the level at which it is going to impact lives, and the community will be different.”
Giordano spoke before hundreds of people gathered at a college in Santa Rosa, one of the hardest-hit cities, for a memorial service to honor the lives lost in the deadliest series of wildfires in California history. The fires sparked Oct. 8, eventually forcing 100,000 people to evacuate.
Before a bell rang 42 times to commemorate the dead, Giordano and other officials praised the ordinary and extraordinary acts of heroism by first responders and community members as the firefight raged on for more than a week. Some firefighters worked days on the front line, refusing to take breaks, while sheriff’s dispatchers continued taking calls even as the fire came close to taking out their building.
“The night of Oct. 8, we were all tested,” Santa Rosa fire Chief Tony Gossner said.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and five members of Congress spent Saturday attending the memorial, touring the fire ravaged areas and gathering advice from federal, state and local officials on what Congress can do to aid the recovery efforts. In a briefing in Santa Rosa, officials asked them to ease red tape that will make it easier to erect temporary housing and to ensure the Environmental Protection Agency has the resources it needs to clean up any hazardous material before it infiltrates the water supply.
Pelosi and Rep. Mike Thompson said they want to make sure fellow lawmakers in Washington understand the scope of the destruction.
Pelosi said that, rather than thinking incrementally about rebuilding, Congress must consider the big picture of how to build in a way that better allows the community to anticipate, prevent and respond to future disasters.
She called the destruction “unfathomable.”
The memorial service came nearly three weeks after the fires erupted Oct. 8, going on to force about 100,000 people to evacuate.
“I can’t think of anything that surpasses the opportunity to be with all of you today,” Pelosi said before presenting a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol to commemorate the fire victims.
Pelosi was joined by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, who represents the city of Santa Rosa, and Reps. Jared Huffman, Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren and Mark DeSaulnier.
The group toured a destroyed health center and met with county and federal officials to ask how Congress can help. Local officials urged them to cut red tape that makes it harder to get temporary housing and other needed resources for people who lost their homes.
Officials estimate more than $1 billion in losses, but they haven’t provided a hard number.
Cleanup could last into early 2018, preventing many homeowners from rebuilding until then, state officials said this week.
The wildfires rank as the deadliest series of fires in California history.
President Donald Trump approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s requests for federal disaster relief. California’s Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are backing legislation to get federal money out the door quicker to help with firefighting.
Harris, Feinstein and Brown visited the fire zone two weeks ago.
WILDFIRES NEAR FULL CONTAINMENT
The Tubbs, Pocket and Nuns fires are nearing complete containment, Cal Fire said Saturday.
The Tubbs Fire, which claimed the lives of 22 people, destroyed about 5,300 structures and burned 36,807 acres, is now 97 percent contained.
The Pocket Fire, which burned 17,357 acres, is also 97 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.
The Nuns Fire, which killed one civilian and one private water tender operator, destroyed about 1,200 structures and burned 56,556 acres, is now 97 percent contained, Cal Fire said.
The nearly three-week Atlas fire, which burned more than 51,000 acres and destroyed homes in Napa County and caused evacuations in west Solano County, has been fully contained, Cal Fire officials said Friday evening.
Firefighters continue to extinguish hot spots and do fire suppression repair work, according to Cal Fire.
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