Local 21 Members Spring into Action in Response to Local Wildfires

(Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

Residents and Local 21 members awoke one morning in early October to tragic news: several wildfires were spreading rapidly in the Northern Bay Area communities of Napa, Sonoma, and Solano Counties, consuming entire neighborhoods and – unfortunately – taking several lives.  Thousands of residents were being displaced by the hour and the risks grew with the increasing wind.

Although much of the fire burned in the wine country communities of Napa and Sonoma County, the Atlas Fire quickly spread to neighboring Solano County, where many Local 21 members live and work. One such group – the Solano County Executive and Senior Management Chapter of Local 21 – was also heavily involved in the emergency response.

It was a comprehensive effort.  Across the County, emergency operations would be coordinated through the County’s Office of Emergency Services and its command center, which is managed and overseen by Local 21 member and County Emergency Services Manager Don Ryan. 

Ryan was among the first on the scene from Solano County and was successful in activating the County’s comprehensive emergency response.  Below is an account from Ryan on what transpired that morning and in the days and weeks that followed:

Early Monday morning, Oct 9, I was called by Cal OES regarding a large, wind driven fire in Napa County that was threatening Solano County.  I drove to the Cal Fire Incident Command Post and arrived at around 4:00 AM.  The Incident Commander was working from the back of his SUV. I took a picture of his hand-drawn map, and it was obvious the fire was heading our way.  I reported to Napa County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and started the process of activating the Solano OES (Office of Emergency Services).  Before heading back to Fairfield, I recorded the first of many radio interviews to warn county residents, and explain the source of smoke that was generating hundreds of 911 calls to the Solano Sheriff’s Office and other Dispatch Centers.  I stayed on duty until midnight. After that first day, I settled into a week of 7 PM to 7 AM shifts, followed by Cal Fire meetings at the Napa Fairgrounds.

On Tuesday, Oct 10, I was asked by the Napa County Emergency Manager to assist in finding a relocation center for more than 800 Yountville Soldiers Home evacuees. We agreed that Travis Air Force Base would be a likely location. The Emergency Manager called me first for my experience with Emergency Management on the base while on active duty with the Air Force. Within an hour of getting there, we had cots lined up, transportation arranged and were getting ready to execute the plan when the advancing fire made the evacuation too dangerous.  The decision was made to shelter-in-place and all available bulldozers and fire assets were sent to the facility.  It ended well, with no injuries or damages. Ambulances had already taken in over a hundred high-risk respiratory patients off site in the hours leading up to the shelter-in-place decision.

And that was just the first two days.  Ryan continues: “In the end, virtually every member of Local 21 worked either in the Emergency Operations Center or out in the field supporting emergency operations and supporting the evacuees sent to Solano County from the Sonoma and Napa fires.” Always planning ahead, Ryan notes that “[local] recovery will take months and the next threat is debris in waterways, flooding, and erosion in the burn scarred areas.” The Daily Republic has also writte about Ryan’s service here.

Other Solano County members, including Deputy Compliance & Quality Assurance Manager Cheryl Esters, volunteered their time, resources, and energy volunteering in local Solano County emergency shelters in a personal capacity.  All around, members stepped up, and we are incredibly grateful and appreciative of their work. 

Although the fires are now mostly contained and extinguished, the recovery and rebuild continues.  Our thoughts remain with the victims and those otherwise affected.  And we thank those who rose to the occasion and played a part in responding, reminding us all about what it means to be dedicated public servants and leaders in our communities every day — including in times of emergency and need.

Visit this website to donate to the Disaster Relief Fund managed by the North Bay Labor Council and Napa/Solano Central Labor Council.