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Wildfire Crisis: Damage Assessments and Further Updates from Santa Rosa

October 17, 2017

In the week since wildfires ignited in the North Bay area, statistics have multiplied: thousands more people have evacuated their homes, more than 5,000 buildings have burned down, and the death toll has risen to 40. Faintly relenting, a half-dozen fires remain active across Napa and Sonoma counties. Portending skylines have materialized as smoke and ash-filled days, setting record-high air pollution levels for the Bay Area, forcing school closures and event cancellations, and making the N95 particulate-matter mask ubiquitous.

The Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, which SFCV previously reported on, has updated their damage assessments. Per an October 11 press release, onsite staff have reported that while the main building remains intact, fires have impacted approximately 30,000 square feet of their campus, including classrooms, workshops, a pavilion tent, and irrigation systems. Events are formally cancelled at the Center through October 15, but administration at the Santa Rosa Symphony has suggested a much later date of November 5.

Likewise, the uninjured Green Music Center (along with the rest of Sonoma State University) has cancelled events through October 15, with plans to “reconvene and assess the situation” on campus this week.

Among major arts organizations in the area, the Santa Rosa Symphony, which makes use of both the Luther Burbank Center and the Green Music Center, has had many personnel affected by the fires. relayed that 14 musicians, board members, and families of young musicians in the orchestra’s youth ensembles have lost their homes; additionally, seven of these young musicians lost their instruments in the fires. Along with last week’s October 9 concert with music-director candidate Francesco Lecce-Chong, October 22’s Tribute to Louis Armstrong (part of a Symphony Pops series hosted by Luther Burbank) has now been cancelled.

The fate of the rest of the orchestra’s season is still up in the air: Silow characterized himself and the members of his organization as in “wildlife crisis mode.” A similar announcement on the group’s Facebook page states that administrative and patron services are closed until further notice. Sara Mitchell, Santa Rosa Symphony’s Director of Marketing & Public Relations, has suggested that perhaps staff offices might be able to reopen on Monday. This week, power has been out in large sections of Sonoma County, air quality in the area is extremely hazardous, and the blazes are partially contained but still burning. Plans for the immediate future remain unclear.

More destruction and losses wrought by the fires: Camp Newman, a Jewish summer-camp facility in Santa Rosa previously rented out by musicians and other artists as a retreat center, has completely burned down; several instrument collections (Chris Miller’s lutherie shop, Howard Klepper’s guitar shop, and Bernie Krause’s and Marisol Richardson’s personal assemblages of musical memorabilia and resources) are now gone; and then there are the ranging and incalculable financial and personal tolls taken on countless others.

In response to the devastation, many individuals and organizations have undertaken relief efforts and sponsored events. A friend of Chris Miller’s initiated a successful crowdfunding campaign for the musician to rebuild his shop and recoup lost wages.  The San Francisco Bach Choir held a concert on October 15 with a portion of the ticket proceeds going to the Redwood Empire Food Bank. Robert Ashley has created and shared an online posting through San Francisco’s Local 6 Musicians’ Union that lists available housing for musicians displaced by the fires. Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater (which postponed several events this weekend) is promoting its previously organized Casino Night at the Sands as an opportunity to donate to and support first responders. Point Reyes Station’s Dance Palace has collected donations and fed and housed evacuees from the fires and is poised to continue to do so. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is making plans to dedicate this weekend's orchestra concerts to relief efforts, with a statement from the podium and collected donations.

The Bay Area enters into a second week of these fires with an obvious picture of the damage done and concrete ways to help. If you have information about additional ways to help fire victims, please post in the comments section below.

Peter Feher studies flute at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He is a third-year undergraduate student, and SFCV's journalism intern this year.

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