North Bay Officials Answer Questions About Fire Recovery

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Federal, state and local officials answer questions during a community meeting at Santa Rosa High School on Oct. 14.  (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

At a community meeting at Santa Rosa High School on Saturday, federal, state and local officials answered questions from Sonoma County residents about firefighting and recovery efforts.

Here are some questions residents raised about how the region will recover from the deadly fires.

How are residents going to be allowed back into their homes? 

Many questions at the meeting focused on the timeline for residents to return to their homes.

"Once it’s been deemed safe by the utilities, by Cal Fire, by the authorities that be, people will get an opportunity to go back in," North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood said. "Initially, probably under some sort of an escort." 


Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said that alerts about going back into neighborhoods will likely come from the Nixle notification system, which will tell residents from a neighborhood to meet at a specific location. 

"We will escort you back into your house," Giordano said. "We will broadcast out when it’s time to go back in and we’ll send National Guard troops with you." 

Can undocumented immigrants receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency? 

Federal authorities at the meeting encouraged all residents to sign up for individual assistance by going on FEMA's website, or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). If one individual in a household (even a child) is a U.S citizen, they can qualify the household for assistance.

FEMA Regional Administrator Robert Fenton Jr. said, "There’s much other assistance available" for undocumented immigrants beyond cash assistance programs. He added that DACA recipients are eligible. 

“As long as they have special status or a Social Security card, they would be able to receive assistance," Fenton Jr. said.

Is there assistance available for renters who had to evacuate their apartments? 

While renters are not eligible for aid covering direct damage on their property, Fenton Jr. said there are some forms of assistance that FEMA will cover.

"We have transitioning shelter assistance, we’ll pay for hotels in the interim, until we can get you back into your rental," he said. "It’s possible that if your rental is damaged we can give you temporary rental assistance to start you off on a new rental." 

How can residents hoping to rebuild their homes find important architectural plans and blueprints? 

Residents who are hoping to rebuild their homes were told that cities and counties may still have a copy of a building plan, if the residence is fairly new.

Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor William Rousseau said his office can also serve as a last resort.

“At the county assessor's office, we draw at least a sketch of your property and we have what we call a building record that shows when it was built, the quality of construction, the permit numbers," he said. "So we can at least give you a sketch of what was originally built or if you had additions and permits for that, we would have that for you.”

Are toxins from burnt buildings going to flow into drains and drinking water when the rainy season begins? 

Officials heard concerns over many aspects of the cleanup from the fires, which will be led by CalRecycle.

Chief Deputy Director Ken DaRosa said that as cleanup occurs, they'll remain focused on making sure future rain won't cause erosion and runoff into the ocean or drinking sources.

“Erosion control is an active and engaged part of the cleanup effort that goes on," he said. 

Another issue raised was the voluntary nature of CalRecycle cleanup programs, in which residents can allow government workers to enter their property for debris removal and cleanup.

Residents were worried that neighbors who don't invite a cleanup crew could leave their property in danger of a runoff, which could affect an entire neighborhood.

"There are going to be certain property owners that do not clean up their property," North Bay state Sen. Mike McGuire said. "County and cities will need to do abatement orders for property owners, and it takes time."