As the sun came up over the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds with the thick smell of smoke in the air, people camping in their cars were starting to stir, getting up to walk their dogs or waiting in line for the Petaluma Regional Library to open adjacent from the grounds.
With the shelter building full, according to Sonoma-Marin Fair CEO Allison Keaney, many people were taking to the parking lot for shelter.
“We probably have about 250 people in the main shelter building, but there are many hundreds more sleeping in their car,” said Jim Burns, communications manager with the American Red Cross for the Northern California Coastal region.
Levy Ludwig was visiting Sonoma County from Germany to see his family when the evacuation was ordered. Ludwig arrived at the shelter Sunday evening around 8 p.m. and slept in his car.
Despite cold temperatures on Sunday night, he said he was just happy to get some sleep without having to worry about evacuations or fire.
“It keeps you up at night,” Ludwig said. “I could actually get some rest.”
He brought his sleeping bag, a tent, water, a basket of food and his French press for coffee from where he was staying in Santa Rosa.
“I came here a couple of months ago spending time with my family here and seeing how everything goes,” Ludwig said.
His family lost their home in Santa Rosa in the 2017 wildfires, and they finished rebuilding last week, before the Kincade Fire started.
“We’ve just been waiting trying to figure out what’s happening, especially with the wind,” Ludwig said.
He said that the last time he checked his family’s home it was OK, however the night before the house was shaking from wind and the surrounding palm trees were shaking with debris coming down.
Ludwig says he’s just trying to keep a happy mood and make the best of the situation.
“What else are you going to do?” he said.
His next step will be to go back to Santa Rosa to check on his elderly landlord, switch cars and figure out his next step from there.
The fairgrounds shelter was opened on Saturday when Burns arrived.
“They’ve pretty much been pouring in since then,” Burns said of evacuees.
Leticia Talavera who lives on McBride Lane in Santa Rosa, was evacuated Saturday evening.
“We did stay a little bit longer at the house because we had pets. The pets are fine. They were scared to be in the car. It has been really crazy, a lot of smoke,” said Talavera, who was also evacuated during the 2017 wildfires.
On Monday morning she drove back to their home in Santa Rosa to check on things. Their house was fine; however, she said it was very smoky.
Talavera said of the situation, “If I freak ou,t I feel like I can’t do anything, so I just try to keep calm and try to help. I am going to shelters to see if there is anything I can do to help while I am there.”
Now Talavera is hoping to find a shelter that still has room
Burns added that people are still coming to the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds seeking refuge. Though they don’t have cots available, they still can provide some services.
“When people come in, we are providing services even if we can’t provide them with a cot in the main building,” Burns said.
Services include minor medical needs such as getting glasses or renewing prescriptions, charging capabilities and a place for pets.
Burns said in the North Bay there are around 16 Red Cross shelters.
“I think about half of those are full,” he said.
Burns said in total there could be approximately 3,200 bunking at the 16 shelters, although he thinks that number is low.
“The people here are doing a terrific job. We have so many community partners here. The downtown association was here yesterday providing meals,” Burns said.
When asked what the feeling is inside the main hall, Burns said that moral is good.
“Obviously it is a very difficult situation, but what I’ve seen here is great spirit and great cooperation from various nonprofits,” Burns said.
He said to find out which shelters still have room go to redcross.org/shelters.
From there you can type in your address to find an open shelter.
“You can get the latest up to date shelter information there,” he said.
In terms of what shelters need, Burns said it is challenging for the Red Cross when people bring donations like used clothing because that could take up valuable cot space.
“We didn’t want a lot of those things because it was going to take up precious room we needed for cots,” he said. “People have been bringing packaged food, pet food. What we encourage people to do is, if you want to help, go to Redcross.org, and there is an opportunity there to click the volunteer button and get into the system if you want to help.”
He said they also encourage people to make a monetary donation which can be made at Redcross.org.
“That is the best way to support what we’re doing because, for us, a lot of what we are providing here is here because of the generosity of what people have already given. We were able to bring in hundreds of cots of the first day,” Burns said.
As Monday Oct. 28, the Kincade Fire was at 73,000 acres and is 15% contained.