GLENN ELLEN (KPIX) – Just as power outages and high fire conditions were arriving for most of the Bay Area, Napa and Sonoma Counties will mark the anniversary of the firestorm that changed life for just about everyone in wine country.
“You know, I think we’ve made a heck of a lot of progress, and that’s what we kind of have to go on,” says Mike Witkowski of Glen Ellen. “Look around. Two years ago this looked like a war zone.”
‘A series of waits’ is how Witkowski describes the past two years in his corner of Sonoma County. His neighborhood in Glen Ellen is where the Nuns Fire marched over Warm Springs Road. By the time the sun rose on October 9, a portion of the town was gone.
“The tourists in town, since the middle of the town didn’t burn, don’t even know the fire happened,” jokes Witkowski. “They wander up the street, and not really knowing, and say ‘why is there all this construction here'”
Witkowski says nearly half the homes in his neighborhood have been rebuilt, that’s a very good number compared to much of the county. But he says this day, and not just the anniversary, recalls the magnitude of what happened here.
“The PG&E shutting off the power, threatening to shut the power, it makes you say ‘oh, there is it that stability,” Witkowski explains. “You really have to be prepared for just about anything. Kind of say, ‘oh yeah,you can lose your house.”
It’s not just those who lost homes or loved ones who feel the weight of the fires.
“There’s now an awareness, even a fear in the background, that it could happen again,” says Peter Fairfield. “It was so powerful, it affected of the whole area, changed the economy, changed the psychology, changed the emotions, changed the expectations for the future.”
Fairfield says the weight of the disaster is, in some ways, still with everyone living here. The aftermath can still be seen everywhere, from housing costs, to hardware stores, and even the land itself.
“It changes your view on life, Fairfield says. “It’s powerful when I look at the land, and the recovery of the land, even two years later … dark black. It’s powerful.”
So, the rebuilding goes on. Some neighborhoods doing better than others, and none of it has been easy.
“It’s a tight neighborhood,” Witkowski says of his street in Glen Ellen. “And that’s one of the reasons I think everybody came back and didn’t give up.”