New Eyes on Floods and Fire

Sonoma County

By Jacoba Charles

Flames have become the unofficial face of climate change for Sonoma County, in the wake of the catastrophic Tubbs and Kincade fires that tore through the northern parts of the county in 2017 and 2019. Together the two fires burned more than 114,000 acres, roughly a tenth of the county, claimed 22 lives, and destroyed almost 5,000 homes. However, increased frequency and severity of wildfire is only one of the many ways that climate change is poised to affect life in Sonoma County. “The fires got us all out of our silos,” says Lisa Micheli, president of the Pepperwood Foundation and Dwight Center for Conservation Science. “The inextricable linkages between the natural world and our built environment mean that we all need to talk to one another.” Drought and warmer temperatures promise to disrupt county agriculture and the natural environment, such as the fog-dependent coast redwoods. Drought also threatens water supplies while intense and frequent winter storms increase flooding. The Russian River already has the highest repetitive flood loss damages of any location west of the Rockies. “I tend to think of climate hazards as the horsemen of the apocalypse: there is fire, flood, drought, heat wave, and sea-level rise,” says the Sonoma Ecology Center’s Caitlin Cornwall. “We had all of these before—just not at this frequency or severity.”

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Photo: Burn out from Tubbs Fire, Santa Rosa in 2017 by Jacoba Charles.

Previous Estuary News Stories

Resprout Post-Fire Photo Essay, December 2017

After the Burn Comes the Rain, December 2017


Regional Climate Protection Authority

Sonoma Water

Pepperwood Preserve

Sonoma Ecology Center

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About the author

Jacoba Charles is a naturalist and science writer. Her first article, at age eight, was about the behavior of ducks as observed from the roof of her family’s barn. It went unpublished. She later graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism (2007). In addition to writing for Estuary News, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, and Modern Farmer, Bay Nature, Marin Magazine, and various literary publications. Her botany blog can be found at and her website is She lives in Petaluma with her family.