DOA Cities Epiclogue 1: The Perfect Firestorm – 9/12, Our New 9/11.

Walking y/our talk

We’re practicing what we preach… what we wrote about in our 4-part DOA series is now being testing in real-time in real world circumstances. No posturing and pontificating professors here.

As luck would have it, one of us (Whitney) had a devastating direct experience of a community arriving DOA in the 21st century. Actually, his community isn’t DOA – but is on serious life support and will be in ER for a long time to come.

Whitney and his wife has a country home in Anderson Springs, CA. He will be forever grateful that his is one of the few that escaped destruction.

Valley Fire

On September 12th a raging forest inferno, called the Valley Fire, (the fastest moving and third worst fire in CA history) swept through Anderson Springs in Lake County like a blowtorch. 90% of homes were destroyed leaving less than 20 structures standing, 1,000 residents displaced and 2 dead. An absolutely horrible way to be thrust into thinking about rebuilding, revitalizing and becoming a sustainable community.

There is nothing stronger than testimony based on personal experience to illustrate an idea. That’s what we will be doing here. We’re going to use this tragedy as a frame of reference for the ideas, theories and suggested actions that have been the heart of our 4-part series on DOA communities.

Here it is right in front of us. We hope we can learn from the Anderson Springs re-building process as it strives to rise from the ashes of a near death experience to rebuild, to recover to its sense of community, and truly become sustainable.

Near death experience

One thing we’ve learned already is that sometimes a community has to experience near death before it truly internalizes the need to be vocal (in that you have to be able to ask for help, say what and why you need it more than others), vital and valuable.

This has been a resounding shock to the Anderson Springs social system (as well as to its physical and natural systems, as well as brand). This is NOT business as usual. This is not about incremental changes. This is a disaster zone unfolding minute by minute, and it’s messy.

It’s hard to visualize the extent of the destruction. Here are a few on the ground photos that give some insight:

But still that is an incomplete picture. Let’s listen to some personal testimony:

Whitney: “The firestorm happened on Saturday afternoon. We decided to stay away that weekend due to extreme heat and two previous nearby firestorms. My wife and I thought Anderson Springs would be safe… little did we know our small community was being engulfed by flames. On Sunday we concluded our house was toast. On Monday late afternoon we got a call from a neighbor who told us our house was one of the few left standing. A photograph and two videos later confirmed this. The news, as fortunate as it was, was bittersweet – we had our house but not our home – our beloved community. Our house, as charming as it is, is not why we choose Anderson Springs. It was the people, the community and its good ol’ fashioned friendliness and welcoming nature that drew us in. It is one of those rare places you read about in idyllic novels set in years past that seem too good to be true but Anderson Springs was the real deal… a beautiful former hot springs turned summer resort with small wooden cabins built around a meandering brook in a long narrow valley sheltered by towering pines and oaks… but it was the people, their sociability and openness towards newcomers that was the true draw… the place brand so to speak.”

 A teaching moment

People are grieving the loss of their community and grasping for a sense of moving forward. They are asking:

  • Why here?
  • Why us?
  • Why now?
  • What do we do next?
  • Who is in charge?
  • What do we do and in what order?
  • Who is responsible for what?
  • What are the vision and the plan?

The good news is that the present situation offers up what you may term ‘a teaching moment’. A time when the mind, heart and spirit are open to a healing message. A time where you can take a deep breath and say “we must move on now.”

And this is where we think our work on how do you prevent your community from arriving DOA in the 21st Century comes into play. Truly now, what does ‘well being’ really mean? What experiences do we want residents to have in the future? What kinds of capabilities do we need to weave into the social fabric of Anderson Springs? Now is the time to get clear on what health, sense of place, community belongingness, learning systems and opportunities will exist.

No need to talk about the why did this happen. Or what are the forces bearing down upon us. It happened. We think the first step needs to be a deep examination of:

“Your core purpose is your True North: your guiding star. 
If you know why you exist – what your purpose is – then youcan make all your decisions guided by that purpose, whichyou can clearly share with all of your stakeholders.”

Next comes what does Anderson Springs want its ‘place brand’ to be?

We laid out a rather specific set of actions that need to take place in our DOA articles. Anderson Springs has only begun its process and we hope that they can take some of what we suggest and put it into actual practice.

In the interest of full disclosure you need to know that Whitney taken on an organizing role in fundraising and helping the community to re-build and become vital once again. So, what we report and analyze going forward will largely a first hand report.

 We will continue to follow this story as a real time case study in how one community kept itself from becoming DOA. Although driven by tragedy, it is a valuable opportunity for true learning that can be shared with others.