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Rebuild North Bay, a group launched to coordinate wildfire-recovery efforts in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake and Solano counties, on Tuesday said it named a former national disaster-relief chief to spearhead the effort.

James Lee Witt, a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Clinton administration, is set to serve as interim executive director and lead recovery efforts from the fires that burned more than 400 square miles, destroying at least 8,400 structures and causing 42 deaths.

Witt was introduced at a news conference in Rohnert Park on Wednesday.

He ran FEMA from April 1993 to January 2001. During that time, his agency responded to nearly 350 officially declared disasters in 50 states, including California’s Northridge earthquake, Red River Flood in the Dakotas and of hurricanes in the South.

After leaving government, he founded James Lee Witt Associates, which advised governments, nonprofits and businesses recovering from natural disasters. Hours after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Witt began helping New Orleans recover from the biggest disaster in its history. His firm also helped with recovery from wildfires in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Newport Beach.

Darius Anderson, a principal in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat, North Bay Business Journal among other media outlets, announced the formation of Rebuild North Bay ( on Oct. 11.

Witt was introduced Oct. 25 in the Student Center at Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. Attending were public officials such as Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Bill Dodd, who represents California Senate Third District; and David Rabbit, representing Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Second District.

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