UC Berkeley police officer Rod Roe found himself assigned to a roadblock near a fire-ravaged section of Santa Rosa on Tuesday. He was one of nine campus police officers called north as part of the state’s mutual aid program to help Santa Rosa police patrol and secure their city.
Evacuated residents had gathered at the roadblock, hoping to learn the fate of their homes and search for missing pets. Roe wasn’t technically supposed to let them past, but he and his fellow officers figured out a way to help: They loaded up D-27, UCPD’s police van, and gave nine of the people a police escort up the hill to see their homes.
“You could just see it in their faces that they knew their house was gone,” Roe said Wednesday. “And that’s hard for us, because other than ‘I am sorry,’ there isn’t much else you can say. You want to say more. But it is the beginning process of healing and rebuilding.”
Roe has experience with large natural disasters. As a police officer with the City of Berkeley, Roe worked the 1991 firestorm that destroyed almost 3,000 homes and killed 25. He then spent years as a beat officer patrolling the damaged area, watching the neighborhood rebuild.
“I heard their stories and I saw how they rebuilt their lives and their homes,” Roe said. “I kinda wanted to tell these people in Santa Rosa that that will come — but that wasn’t the place and that wasn’t the time.”
UC Berkeley’s police department will continue to send officers to Sonoma County until there’s no longer a need for help, said Sgt. Sabrina Reich, a spokeswoman for the department. Roe has already requested to return to Santa Rosa, where wildfires still burn.
“It is part of what I do. It is part of being a police officer,” he said. “I am going to back in there to assist people. I can’t imagine what this time must be like for them. I want to go back and help them in any way.”