On the morning of October 9, 2017, Santa Rosa Marathon race director Orhan Sarabi was approximately 600 miles north of his hometown when the Tubbs Fire set Napa and Sonoma counties ablaze. Sarabi was at the Portland Marathon in Oregon when he received the devastating news, and caught the earliest flight back to help his family, neighbors, and the marathon staff evacuate the city. That same morning, Sarabi’s 15-year-old son suffered a seizure amid the disarray, right before his father could get back to help. The family headed straight to the emergency room in Richmond, CA upon evacuation. The smoke hung heavy for days thereafter; homes, belongings, businesses, and entire neighborhoods were lost. But in the chaos, the community found each other.The Tubbs Fire sparked the night of October 8, 2017 in Calistoga, and engulfed thousands upon thousands of acres of Napa and Sonoma County land during the days to come. In terms of property damage, the Tubbs Fire is now considered the most destructive wildfire in the history of California.
Without missing a beat, donations poured in, volunteers came from near and far, and support resounded from within the national running community. “After I came back, we immediately started to mobilize … We started with the Portland Marathon’s [donations], who generously donated a thousand brand new shirts from previous races. It started a domino effect,” Sarabi recounts. Marathon and race organizers from Alaska to Oklahoma to North Carolina sent brand new finisher shirts, along with their other shows of support. And Santa Rosa’s neighboring race, Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, donated 4,000 finisher t-shirts.
The Santa Rosa Marathon staff also collaborated with other non-profits, companies, and volunteers, and used their expertise of the city and its roadmap. They provided logistical counseling to Crossing the Jordan, a local non-profit that resells clothing and other apparel, to route donations directly and effectively to Santa Rosa residents. Outdoor goods retailer Sports Basement also enlisted the Santa Rosa Marathon staff to help process truckloads of donations—some of which Sarabi stored at his own warehouse due to the sheer volume of supplies—which were then hand-delivered to the fire victims. In addition, Sarabi was able to return something extra sentimental to a handful of race finishers who lost everything: Medals earned in past Santa Rosa Marathons were able to be replaced by Sarabi and his staff.
Looking forward, the Santa Rosa Marathon will continue to honor both the first responders and the community who survived this tragedy together. The Tubbs Fire left a path of destruction in its wake, but has and will continue to prove the resilience and strength of both Santa Rosa and the national running communities.