Library Heroes: Napa County Library Becomes Community Hub During Wildfire Crisis

In honor of National Library Week and libraries across the globe, we are excited to share our Library Heroes Series with you. Institutions like Napa County Library are a true testament to the library’s role as an engaging community center and advocate for access to services, resources, and programming.

Six months ago, the nation’s headlines were filled with terrible news coming out of northern California when some of the most destructive wildfires in the region’s history broke out on October 8-9, 2017. Over the course of the next three weeks, the firestorm would affect over 245,000 acres, 8,900 buildings, and countless families’ lives.

Imagine waking up to find your community enveloped in thick smoke, being urged to evacuate as quickly as possible, and making it out with not much more than your loved ones, pets, and the clothes you’re wearing. Power is out, no one seems to have internet access, and many cellular towers have been destroyed by fires. You can’t watch television news, access the internet, or make calls. Where do you go? What do you do?

If you’re in Napa County, you go to the library.

During the October 2017 Northern California wildfires, the Napa County Library stepped up and became the primary public communications hub for the area. The library was one of the only places that never lost internet access, so people could use its computers to connect with loved ones, find shelters and services they needed, sign up for automated alerts through their phones, and more. Library staff acted as frontline ambassadors. They were able to stay up-to-date with the latest alerts, evacuations, news, and service locations and get information to the public both digitally and through good old-fashioned printed resources and maps on the walls. After the fires died down, patrons continued to get information at the library about how to do abatement, what to do with hazardous materials, where to find assistance, mental health care, breathing masks, etc.

The library was also one of the few places where people could escape the pervasive smoke and breathe clean air, thanks to its excellent air filtration system. And fortunately, all but one branch in the Napa County Library system were able to stay open throughout the entire ordeal. Library staff members, who live in the community and were affected themselves, went the extra mile for anyone who needed their help. “We saw our role as getting people to the right places for the information or assistance they needed. We were ambassadors and liaisons connecting people to each other and to insurance companies, nonprofits, the county’s emergency services, and more,” says Danis Kreimeyer, Director of Library Services and Community Outreach for Napa County Library.

“Unfortunately, Napa Valley has had more than its share of disasters lately, with earthquakes, wildfires, flooding, and the recent shooting at the Veterans’ Home,” Kreimeyer explains. “But our library is the community’s family room. It’s a place that’s alive and interactive all the time, not just during disasters. The staff is truly amazing, and we’re always here to do whatever we can to serve the community and help people survive, recover, and heal together.”

Enjoy this story? Check out another from our Library Heroes Series.