On the evening of October 8, 2017 our lives and landscape in the North Bay forever changed when a series of wildfires erupted and then raced across the region, causing the most destructive fire is California’s history. Within the first 12 hours, thousands of homes had been consumed, leaving many to run for their lives. By the end of the week, 44 people had lost their lives and over 90,000 were evacuated from their homes in five counties: Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, and Solano. The fires would burn for 23 days and destroy 8,900 structures, costing an estimated $14.5 billion dollars, becoming the most expensive and destructive natural disaster in California’s history.
How We Got Here
Our founder, Darius Anderson is a long time Sonoma Valley resident, thus putting him the middle of a ring of fires that would burn for the next ten days. In response to the devastation, he reached out to business, nonprofit and community leaders across the region and asked them to join him in creating an organization dedicated to our long term recovery and rebuilding. Anderson also partnered with local, state and federal elected leaders, including Congressman Mike Thompson, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom as Co-Chairs of Rebuild’s Honorary Board.
On October 11, 2017, Rebuild NorthBay Foundation, was activated with former FEMA Director, James Lee Witt, at the helm as the interim Executive Director. The board was populated by skilled leaders with a common vision to bring their talents, effort and love of the land and our people to the fore in service to the rebuild. Founding board members include Napa Valley wine scion Michael Mondavi, auto dealer and Sonoma County major employer, Henry Hansel, and entrepreneur Elizabeth Gore as Board Chair. James Lee Witt served for the first several weeks as executive director and was instrumental in advising the Rebuild Board of Directors about what to expect over the coming days, weeks, months and years. In January of 2018, Rebuild brought on a new executive director, Jennifer Gray Thompson, to manage the day to day foundation.
“Given the amount of devastation in the North Bay, it is imperative that these recovery efforts start now and the organization has recruited a number of prominent community leaders that are willing to advocate for the necessary resources that the region needs now and into the future.”
“I got involved right after the fires when Darius Anderson called. He asked if I would be interested in working with him to make sure that Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino [counties] all continued to get the proper support for years to come. To me, it was a rhetorical question.”
Rebuild NorthBay Executive Board Member, Folio Fine Wine Partners
The decision was made early on for Rebuild to focus our efforts on the long term recovery and rebuild, most active in Year 2 to Year 5 and beyond. The board did not want to compete with emergency funding relief and realized there was a need for an organization to immerse itself in the challenging time post-disaster: when the cameras and news crews and have departed and donations slow just as needs increase.
Rebuild NorthBay is dedicated to the long term assistance to our public, private and nonprofit communities. We build partnerships to fill funding gaps for rebuilders, provide information and data, and advocate for the maximum amount of federal dollars to ensure our region not only recovers, but leaps ahead regionally. We are determined to be a model and pay our lessons forward to other disaster affected areas throughout the nation.
At Rebuild, we do not set the agenda. Instead we always begin with the query, “What do you need and how can we help?” We expect these answers to change as the years progress, but our approach will remain constant. Our people and this place are worth it. Together, we will rise.