A day of remembrance. A day of togetherness.

Sonoma County residents comfort each other through teary eyes during the Day of Remembrance ceremony.

Michael Barnes, Co-Features Editor

Additional Reporting by Ali Benzerara & Rachel Edelstein


Underneath a smoke-free, clear blue sky, community members assembled together at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Bailey Field on Saturday for a day of remembrance following the North Bay Wildfires.

Attendees clutched roses and each other as the event ran the gamut of emotions for those affected. A willingness to grieve, laugh and heal were prevalent throughout the festivities.

Pat Kerrigan, KSRO radio host handled the Master of Ceremonies duties, kicking off the event with a humorous quip that could only come from a radio personality.

“It’s been a pleasure to see all of you,” Kerrigan joked. “Take a little extra breathe in your lungs to lead us through the challenges ahead.”

The loudest ovation of the day greeted Sheriff Rob Giordano as he took to the podium. “The number I want to focus on is not to forget the people we lost in this,” he said. “The community will be different. It’s not the same anymore.”

Giordano praised the efforts of the first responders in conjunction with the response from the local and state agencies in battling the wildfires. Within the first eight hours of the wildfires, the city of San Francisco sent 100 police officers, Vallejo added an additional 150 officers and by Oct. 10, the National Guard sent 600 soldiers for additional support.

“I’ve been in government for a while, and I have never seen it move that easy before,” Giordano said.

Giordano highlighted one group in particular that rose to the occasion and answered the call, literally.

“Dispatchers averaged 300 calls every hour until 8 a.m. from the first hour of the wildfires,” he said.

Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner followed Giordano and echoed the Sheriff’s sentiments. “The night of Oct. 8, we were all tested. In two hours we had five fires, three of them in the top 10 of most destructive.”

Like the wildfires, the amount of fire support was unprecedented, involving 382 fire agencies, 14 states and one nation – Australia. Gossner called on the first responders present to stand to a rousing ovation.

“I’ve never been more proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you. I want to thank Cal Fire team 1 and 3. They are the best at what they do and have our communities best interests in mind,” Gossner said.

Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott echoed Gossner’s statements, “There were 245,000 acres that burned, 42 lives lost and 11,000 firefighters in action.”

Pimlott brought insight to the selfless bravery of those on the frontlines, “We had firefighters on the lines for over 84 hours,” he said.

A poem written by Mark West Charter School eighth grader Vicente Reyes followed the first responders at the podium. The poem, entitled “Rising” read as an anthem for a city recently buried by ash from the wildfires’ destruction.

“I will rise. After every fall I will rise,” Reyes said.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was on hand, stressing the importance of staying strong during the rebuilding efforts. “Rebuild the community in a way that can be a model to the world in rescue, relief and recovery,” Pelosi said.

Director of California Emergency Operating Services, Mark Ghilarducci, passed on condolences from Governor Jerry Brown, who was not able to attend. Ghilarducci left the crowd with a message of community, which has been a staple philosophy since the start of the wildfires.

“Our collective work is not over. It’s really just beginning. I consider what we’re doing now, some of the most important work we have to do together. You have lost much, but you have not lost everything. Remember you are not alone. We will recover, we will rebuild and we will come back stronger together,” Ghilarducci said.

The Santa Rosa Fire Department’s ringing of the bell for fallen neighbors brought everyone in attendance to their feet for the somber moment of silence.

The ceremony came to a close with the Firefighters Pipe and Drum Band playing “Amazing Grace” and Transcendence Theatre Company’s renditions of the “Rent” song “525,600 Minutes” and Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

Despite the displacement of 930 students from their homes due to the wildfires, a few students managed to make it to the event.

“I came here today to be a part of the grieving and healing process, and to help create the space for that. I didn’t lose my home but I hosted evacuees and volunteered,” said Lisa DeCarbo of Sebastopol.

Poojan Pokharel, 20, a computer programming student, said, “I’m not impacted by the fires, but I was evacuated from my home near Yulupa Avenue for five days. I wanted to attend this event because it is my first event in the U.S. since I came here from Nepal.”

Congress members Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman were also in attendance.

Huffman is aware of the importance of getting students to return to the campus. “We will have a lot of opportunities in this crisis; one of which is to train the community and SRJC is at the center of it,” Huffman said. “We need to keep them on their career path and investing in their education. They will provide important contributions to all of this in the rebuilding of their community.”

SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong said that the school is doing whatever it can to bring students and faculty back. “We’ve been calling those students who have been displaced and we want everyone to come back.”

Chong also emphasized that SRJC is training the people who will rebuild the city of Santa Rosa. “Preliminary discussions are in place focusing on programs to help with the rebuild. We’ve had discussions about construction apprenticeships and other opportunities to help.”