Tiger Times

1964: Sonoma County Ablaze

Bella Nadler, Staff Writer

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On the morning of September 19th, 1964, a series of 94 fires started in Northern California. The Hanley Fire, which was ignited in Calistoga, burned its way through 52,700 acres of Northern California counties. 53 years later, similar circumstances caused a series of wildfires to break out in the counties of Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Butte.

Much like the recent fires, in 1964 the citizens were given little to no notice of what would soon be quick devastation. The ideal conditions of California’s October weather allowed the fires to rapidly transform into a massive inferno, spanning to well over 20,000 acres within a single day. Touring the sites by plane, both Gov. Edmund Brown ( in 1964) and his son, Gov. Jerry Brown (in 2017)ob declared the affected areas a disaster site.

The disaster that hit California on the evening of October 8th has had a much larger impact than previous fires. California has an average of 4,400 wildfires annually, covering nearly 220,000 acres, yet in the 1990s, many acres were sold for development anyway. Eagerness to add to the city’s economic life lead to certain rules being overlooked, as city planners and engineers would later admit. As a result, around a quarter of Santa Rosa residents live within four moderate, high, and very high severity fire zones. During the 90s, dedicated protesters would turn up at late-night hearings to demonstrate against the purchasing of Fountaingrove. Any type of responsive legislation would have helped ensure greater fire safety.

These fires have been disastrous for many people. If our society had taken a lesson from the  past, homes and lives would not be in ruin, and hundreds would not be jobless. This provokes questions as to what will come next. Will we learn from this tragedy or continue as if nothing happened?

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1964: Sonoma County Ablaze