Storms that battered the Bay Area and beyond this week have wreaked havoc on the Sonoma County coast as the area braces for more rain this weekend, county officials said.

Volunteer fire chiefs in both the Timber Cove Fire Protection District and the North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District estimate that “hundreds” of trees have fallen along the coast and state Highway 1, clogging roads and leaving people trapped in their homes or even in some instances their vehicles.

Timber Cove Fire Chief Erich Lynn said he hasn’t seen storms like this in nearly 50 years.

“We’ve had many, many, many trees come down, more than I’ve ever seen in any storm, and I’ve been out here since the ’70s,” said Lynn. “We’ve had lots of storms, but this one definitely was the biggest one I’ve ever seen.”

Lynn’s district spans a large portion of the Sonoma County coast along Highway 1, serving towns like Fort Ross, Timber Cove and Walsh Landing.

Chief Lynn said that to his knowledge, there has been no loss of life in his region, but in some cases ambulances were unable to get through due to downed trees and several cars have been destroyed by falling timber.

As for the integrity of the coastline, no bluffs or anything have fallen, Lynn said, but Highway 1 has had a few slides that Caltrans is monitoring “very closely.” He anticipates that with the intense saturation of the area at this point, more slides will occur when the next wave of rains hit this weekend.

Rescue workers return from the scene of a submerged car in a Forestville vineyard where a woman was found dead on Jan. 11, 2023. (Image via Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office/Twitter)

Toppled trees test 911

The North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District, covering over 172 square miles in the northwestern corner of the county, has also dealt with “hundreds” of toppled trees, which have made up the bulk of service calls.

“We’ve responded to almost 100 911 calls,” said Fire Chief Bonnie Plakos, “which is a lot since we usually only get about 330 calls a year.”

Plakos said their priority beyond protecting lives has been keeping Highway 1 clear so that people can evacuate if needed and get to the hospital.

“The big deal here has been trees falling, blocking roads, blocking driveways, landing on houses and landing on vehicles,” she said, adding that they are still tallying up the total damage so far, but that at least 12 houses were impacted by falling trees.

Downed power lines are also a huge hazard and the area experienced “dozens and dozens” of lines falling, which pose not only a safety hazard but means people go without power, sometimes for days. Plakos said in Sea Ranch alone there were still upwards of 800 people still without power as of Wednesday.

“The big deal here has been trees falling, blocking roads, blocking driveways, landing on houses and landing on vehicles.”

Chief Bonnie Plakos, North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District

So far there don’t appear to be any fatalities associated with the storms in her area, she said. Two people were discovered dead in their Sea Ranch home on Wednesday and initial reports seemed to imply that a tree had fallen on their house. Plakos said she can’t comment on the exact cause of death but can confirm that it was not due to a tree falling on their house.

Both Plakos and Lynn were anticipating Thursday’s clear weather to be a time to keep pushing forward to clean up their areas as much as possible before new rains hit over the weekend. Both chiefs expressed gratitude for the multiple agencies that came together to help them battle the ravages of the storms, from PG&E, Caltrans, Cal Fire, private tree companies, the Sheriff’s Office, to name a few.

Sonoma County first initiated its emergency response on Jan. 4 authorizing the activation of the county’s Emergency Operations Center, which has been working nonstop, the county said.

So far, the county estimates the cost of the damage to be at least $11 million, according to Emergency Management Director Chris Godley. The Board of Supervisors officially declared a local emergency on Tuesday, freeing up more resources to tackle the impact of the storms and more to come in the next month and a half.

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.