At least 69 CSEA members lost their homes in the recent North Bay fires and many more were displaced by evacuation. As the largest, most destructive set of fires in the history of the state swept through Northern California, CSEA members and staff worked tirelessly to make sure their communities and coworkers were safe, and to provide members who lost their homes with supplies and financial assistance.
The fires that left parts of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, Yuba and Lake counties in ashes started in the early morning hours of Oct. 8, and were still blazing more than one week later. It was unknown what sparked the flames, but dry weather and high winds fueled the fires that burned more than a combined 200,000 acres, claimed the lives of at least 41 people and destroyed an estimated 5,700 homes and businesses.
CSEA Labor Relations Representative Leslie Perry lives in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, one of the areas that was hardest hit by the fires with nearly 1,300 destroyed by fire.
“I woke up at about two in the morning on Sunday (Oct. 8) and it was really smoky outside,” she said. “You could see there were hundreds of people leaving.”
As the fires grew larger and engulfed entire towns, local CSEA chapter members were called upon to help with evacuation efforts. Bus drivers from Moon Valley Chapter 376 transported the residents of a developmental facility and nursing homes in Sonoma to safety. Chapter 376 members worked around the clock to feed and ensure a safe environment for the hundreds of evacuees taking refuge at Sonoma Valley High School.
“Our members mobilized instantly and worked tirelessly to make sure our classified members and our community members were safe,” Chapter 376 President Andrea Deely said.
One of the biggest challenges of this disaster was trying to account for CSEA members who were evacuated. Leaders of several local CSEA chapters, along with Area B Director Frank Rodriguez and North Bay Field Office staff worked night and day to track down members and find out if their homes were affected. Chapter presidents scoured evacuation centers, sent out emails and made phone calls.
A week after the devastation began, CSEA staff and members were still trying to account for all the members in the area since power had been down, and cell phone and internet access was spotty. Sonoma Valley Unified School District schools were not back in session so contacting members who might have left the area to seek refuge was nearly impossible.
“Our chapter has 270 members and I’ve only talked to 50 of them so far,” Deely said a week after the fires started. “It’s just a matter of gathering everyone in one spot.”
“It’s heartbreaking to see people lose so much, so quickly,” Association President Ben Valdepeña said. “Our CSEA family takes care of one another, and we are reaching out to help those affected by the fires.”
Deely said the overwhelming display of unity among all the employees of Sonoma Valley Unified District was the only good thing to come out of the devastation.
“You really do feel a good sense of community when something like this happens,” she said.
Support for the Dorothy Bjork Fund doesn’t come from union dues—it relies solely on donations from our CSEA family. If you’ve already donated, thank you for your generosity. If not, please consider how much your contribution will be appreciated by those members in need.
CSEA members who have been impacted can apply for up to $1,000 in emergency assistance. Call CSEA Member Benefits at 1-866-ITS-CSEA (487-2732) or visit csea.com/bjork for applications and forms.
The Dorothy Bjork Assistance Fund doesn’t come from union dues at all—it relies solely and entirely on voluntary donations from members and staff. Find out how you can contribute...More
View the latest fire updates, maps and summaries from Cal Fire