October 20, 2017
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Northern California Agencies Assist with Wildfire Evacuations

As Northern California authorities continue to fight the wildfires that have caused extensive damage and even deaths in the region, public transit systems are playing an integral role in helping to evacuate citizens to local shelters, and helping some to return home after the ­danger has passed.

The wildfires spanned hundreds of thousands of acres and were exacerbated by hot, dry winds blowing at 50 mph. As of press time, 41 deaths have been reported and almost 6,000 structures destroyed, although firefighters have expressed cautious optimism that they may have much of the disaster contained at this point.

“People are taking the train to find their way back home,” said Jeanne Mariani-Belding, communications and marketing manager at Sonoma-Marin County Area Rail Transit (SMART), a commuter rail operator based in Petaluma. “Once we were able to start running again, we began providing our service free to assist those in need of transportation and we are continuing to do that through the weekend, and perhaps longer if needed. It is uplifting to see people using SMART; it is the start of the first signs of healing.”

The system resumed full service as of Oct. 16 after several hours being closed, with two stations in northern Santa Rosa back up and running.

The Napa Valley Transportation Authority (NVTA) also assisted local residents.

“Vine Transit is offering free rides on buses and shuttles for the next three weeks,” said Derek Moore, NVTA’s public information officer. “Transportation needs are high on the list of concerns for people affected by the disaster, so we can more broadly aid in the recovery effort.”

NVTA also helped evacuate residents from their neighborhoods and brought them to shelters set up around the county.

The cities of Napa, Calistoga and Yountville were among those seriously affected by the fires. However, Moore noted a level of optimism among residents: “We are very concerned. There is a sense of worry, but also a sense of mission. We are focused on working hard to get people to where they need to go.”
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