While thousands of residential structures were destroyed by the recent North Bay wildfires, local dairy and cattle farms were also affected, some were left unscathed, but others were destroyed by the Tubbs Fire, which is now 100 percent contained but has left behind a daunting clean up task for farmers.
After the smoke settled and the flames of the largest wildfire in state history were put out, it was found that over 8,000 structures were destroyed, according to Cal Fire. Among those structures destroyed, was Bee-Well Farms of Sonoma, a sustainable focused farm that raises grass fed beef, pastured eggs and an array of seasonal produce.
For Melissa Lely, who co-owns the farm with her husband Austin, it was a horribly incredible event to come home to see all of the structures on their 430- acre farm destroyed. Their home, barn, greenhouse, vehicles and tools had been completely incinerated, however, amongst the sooty mess, their animals managed to survive.
“We were affected pretty heavily… That was the worst night of my life, not having time to save them. But the next day coming back with my husband we saw that they had survived,” Lely said.
The survivors consisted of 350 laying hens, 12 cows and two goats and while Lely said she doesn’t know how they survived, she is grateful they did.
“The chickens were in their coupe, it didn’t ignite at all, the goats were in the barn. The roof had collapsed and we found them all huddled in the corner, but the tips of their tails got singed and they were definitely shaken up. The cows just kind of danced around in a 30- acre parcel and they were all covered in soot,” Lely explained of how she believes the animals survived the flames.
While the animals survived, the crops and the fencing around the property were destroyed, which Lely said will be some of the most difficult things to restore.
“The fence line is a big thing. Keeping the chickens contained isn’t really happening. The whole fence line is down and it’s about a 430- acre property,” Lely said, who has had to work on making improvised fencing for the property. “We’ve been using twine to patch the fence to keep them as contained as possible.”
The property’s wells also burned up during the inferno and Lely has been having to haul in water from other sources for her animals every day, a half day’s work added to their already long list of to-do’s for recovery post fire.
“I haven’t really stopped working (since the fires), it has been a bit overwhelming and we are definitely trying to get back to normal,” Lely said.
Yet getting back to normal may prove to be a lengthy process, according to Lely, who said they are going to rebuild the seven out of 10 structures lost. Before they can focus on rebuilding fences and buildings, the Environmental Protection Agency must review the property and clear it of any hazardous debris, a process that could take a few months.
“We’re hoping it is not too long and it is definitely going to be time consuming working with insurance and FEMA,” Levy said.
FEMA, who works with the Small Business Administration in the aid and recovery of businesses, said they are trying to speed up the process, according to William Lindsey of the Sonoma/Santa Rosa FEMA division.
“We are trying to expedite the cleanup process,” Lindsey said, who also mentioned that for information on FEMA entry forms and the clean- up process, to visit the disaster recovery center or online at sonomacountyrecovers.org or fema.gov.
Damage however, isn’t the only shockwave felt by Bee-Well Farms. According to Lely, the loss of crops and time spent selling product at local farmers markets will have quite a negative financial impact on their business.