My name is Nicole Kiilerich, and I run Naked Skin Care in Petaluma, California. I was born and raised in the North Bay and was deeply affected by the series of wildfires that hit Napa and Sonoma Counties in October of 2017.
As an esthetician, I was compelled to reach out to help by distributing basic necessities—toiletries and food—to evacuees and victims of the fires. Luckily, my hometown of Petaluma was not directly impacted by the fires and became the epicenter of many relief efforts.
I worked in partnership with my suppliers Glymed Plus and FarmHouse Fresh and also donated my own time and money to support the fire relief efforts and bring a small sense of comfort to victims in temporary shelters and through a network of local businesses.
The Sonoma and Napa County wildfires started with an intense windstorm in the early hours of October 9, 2017. I woke up to the news of an urban wildfire like no other ravaging neighborhoods just a few miles north of my own home. The fires swept through the Fountaingrove Valley in the middle of the night, leaving no time for residents to react.
My partner’s parents were among those who lost their homes and had only a few minutes to evacuate, so this tragedy hit close to my heart as well. Many people died in the fires, and the extent of the damage is still being assessed months later. Simultaneous fires cropped up in neighboring Napa County and, at one point, more than 14 separate fires were burning simultaneously in the area.
Coffey Park, Santa Rosa, October 2017
First responders worked tirelessly to restore safety to the area and battled the fires through the end of the month. After the initial day of shock, myself and other residents watched anxiously for news of containment of the various fire complexes and monitored the deteriorating air quality.
Smoke hung in the air for more than three weeks, and a refrain began spreading, first on posters in evacuation zones and later across social media, as a unifying cry: “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”
Thousands of homes and businesses in Sonoma and Napa Counties were lost, and thousands more people were affected by the smoke that enveloped the entire Bay Area region for the weeks following the fires. In the aftermath of that first frantic day, I threw myself into helping the people displaced by the fires.
First Responders, October 2017
My focus was immediately on the people who were able to escape the firestorm but were left with almost no time to grab any possessions. While I felt for the victims, all of whom lost irreplaceable keepsakes and mementos, I also knew that there would be a significant need for the everyday items that we all take for granted. I purchased essentials like hairbrushes, nail clippers, Vaseline, and chapstick in bulk and donated them to the emergency shelters popping up in my hometown, which had become an epicenter of the relief efforts and was out of immediate danger.
I rushed to Costco to buy supplies for making several large lasagnas, which my stepdaughter, her friends, and I brought to the National Guardsmen assisting the fire crews out of the regional airport down the street. My family also donated storage bins and our personal coolers to the evacuation centers to assist in their operations. We cleared our pantry of dried goods and made subsequent trips to the shelters with our supplies in hand.
Santa Rosa – October 9, 2017.
Most importantly, and beyond the initial outpouring of support, I continued to spread word about opportunities to contribute to the victims and fire crews. Within my business, I have provided complimentary services to fire victims and promoted the informal networks that sprang up within my local community of beauty professionals.
Each year, I hand out small giftbags to my clients as a token of appreciation during the holiday season. I had already purchased travel-sized products to distribute to my clients in holiday gift bags and decided to repurpose them as donation bags. I then reached out to my suppliers to supplement my giftbags with other products. Glymed and FarmHouse Fresh answered the call and provided me with even more product to give out. Glymed, in particular, supplied an incredible 1,000 bottles each of sunscreen and ultra-hydro gel for the fire victims.
With so much product to distribute, I enlisted the help of my friends and family to stuff donation bags in an assembly-line fashion.
My collection of supplies and distribution of donations is an ongoing effort, because I know that the process of rebuilding will take years. I am so proud of the ways that this community has come together to support one another, and I will continue leading my business in doing the same. My hope is that by donating supplies through shelters and directly to victims and first responders, it will eliminate one more thing to worry about in maintaining their health.
I funded my project through personal money and supplier donations. Much of the work was carried out by word-of-mouth and community networking. Within this network in particular, Truck and Barter and The Pine Hair Salon have continued to assist me in distributing my donation bags to those in need.
My prize money would benefit the Napa and Sonoma County Fire Relief Fund through the Direct Impact Fund, a disaster relief non-profit distributing funds in a continuing effort to support fire victims in locating shelter, meeting daily needs, and getting back on their feet.
Much of my social media participation during this event was done on an ad hoc basis of time-sensitive videos and calls to action. Examples of these efforts through Instagram, in particular, are highlighted in my video submission. I believe they demonstrate the horror of the situation and the promise of so many people contributing to the relief efforts in their own particular ways, offering what they could in a time of great need and forging a stronger community in the process.