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After dozens died in 2017, Santa Rosa residents were prepared when flames returned this week

By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Like almost everyone else in the Coffey Park neighborhood, Maria del Carmen lost her home three years ago.

"I still get panic attacks," the 33-year-old Santa Rosa resident said Monday. Terror shoots through her when she smells smoke, "until I can figure out there's no fire here. Then I can relax."

She learned of the 2017 Tubbs fire when she woke in the night and looked out her window, so it was without question that when she rebuilt, Del Carmen signed up for emergency Nixle alerts on her cellphone. She stayed most of Sunday night, packing and monitoring fire news.

The midnight urban evacuation that Sonoma County officials feared would be a repeat of 2017's exodus instead went relatively smoothly, Del Carmen said, "because of all the Nixles. Everyone gets them."

She, however, left even without an evacuation warning for her home - leaving before dawn and heading early into work to a retirement center whose residents were being moved to a community shelter in nearby Petaluma.

The fire that burned into Santa Rosa on Sunday and Monday was reminiscent of the 2017 firestorms that destroyed thousands of homes and killed dozens of people. But this fire has been far less destructive, and there have been no reports of fatalities.


And there are clear signs that officials and residents learned from 2017, with warnings to get out being issued - and followed - more effectively. On Sunday night and Monday morning, thousands fled to safety, jamming Highway 12.

A lot has changed in three years, Del Carmen said.

"It (the evacuation) was better, even though the fire did come faster."

Sitting on the sidewalk outside the Petaluma shelter, Rose, a 32-year-old Santa Rosa resident who did not want to give her last name, similarly relied on the text alerts. "A friend said, 'You have to subscribe to Nixle,' " she said.


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