North Bay Fires

Grand Award: North Bay Transit Operators and Sonoma Clean Power for Response and Recovery from the 2017 North Bay Fires

Transit operators are not typically thought of as first responders to wildfires, but they do play a critical role when vulnerable populations are in the path of the fires, as evidenced by the efforts of three North Bay public transit operators during the October 2017 firestorm in Napa and Sonoma counties. Likewise, a nimble program to encourage quick and energy-efficient rebuilding can help affected communities bounce back more quickly. This year’s Grand Award goes to three transit operators and the Sonoma Clean Power program for their work to save lives, protect communities and aid in rebuilding efforts.

When calls for help came during the North Bay fires, Sonoma County Transit and Santa Rosa CityBus quickly evacuated hundreds of people, many in wheelchairs, from the path of danger. Transit buses moved vulnerable people out of residential neighborhoods and numerous facilities – including Sutter Hospital, Kaiser Hospital, Sonoma State University residence halls, Summerfield Health Care Center, Spring Lake Village, the Youth Detention Center, and the Sonoma Development Center. Santa Rosa CityBus alone counted 370 evacuations in the first 12 hours of the fires. In Napa County, The Vine was called on for large-scale evacuations of the Veteran’s Home of Yountville and the State Hospital, before the fire shifted and orders were lifted. The Vine also was called to help evacuate the entire City of Calistoga.

As the fires continued, all three operators strove to continue regular service but eventually limited their schedules and/or stopped service entirely to ensure employees and resources were available for emergency response.  Employees from all three systems worked determinedly to provide service. Staffing at transit operations became a 24-hour enterprise and extra customer service resources were deployed to assist riders. Administrative staff were dedicated full-time to Emergency Operation Center teams, or stepped in to support customer service and logistics.

Joining in the Grand Award recognition is Sonoma Clean Power’s Advanced Energy Rebuild Program, which is supporting North Bay residents as they face the daunting process of rebuilding their homes and lives in the wake of the wildfires. Immediately after the October 2017 fires, local architects, fire survivors, environmental activists and politicians asked for help in rebuilding better homes and structures, with recommendations for zero carbon, electric vehicle infrastructure, heat pump technology, avoidance of natural gas in whole neighborhoods, and coordination with other related efforts to promote better vegetation management and water conservation. 

These conversations culminated in Sonoma Clean Power’s Advanced Energy Rebuild Program. This innovative, collaborative effort is achieving the ultimate resilience goal of rebuilding stronger, smarter and greener homes. To address a shortage of local housing, accessory dwelling units are eligible for a portion of the incentives