Rebirth of burned neighborhood offers hope to wildfire-weary Californians

CNN/ Newswire | 8/8/2018, 11:28 a.m.
The charred trees that dot the yards and sidewalks on Jenna Place remain as a reminder of last year's catastrophe, ...
The catastrophic Carr fire blazed a path of devastation, becoming the 7th most destructive fire in California history as it burned more than 1,100 structures and left six people dead./Hector Amezcua/AP

By Dan Simon, CNN

(CNN) -- The charred trees that dot the yards and sidewalks on Jenna Place remain as a reminder of last year's catastrophe, but the heaps of ash and twisted metal that once filled lot after lot are gone.

Ten months after a deadly wildfire tore into parts of the city of Santa Rosa, the middle-class subdivision of Coffey Park is being reborn and an expansive rebuilding effort is taking shape. The tight-knit neighborhood, almost wiped from the map by the monstrous blaze that swept in early last October, is on its way back.

Construction workers are everywhere, pouring cement foundations and erecting wooden framing to begin replacing at least some of the 1,300 homes obliterated by the deadly Tubbs Fire.

The massive wildfire eventually claimed around 5,700 structures, making it the most destructive in California's history. It also cost 22 lives, according to state officials -- and left a trail of grief and devastation in its wake.

Now signs of new beginnings offer hope for the future of Santa Rosa residents and, perhaps, some solace to thousands of Californians who are reeling from the massive damage done by this year's fearsome fire season.

"It's very heartening, " said John Wimmer who is rebuilding a new house on the site of his former home.

"I talked to a lot of the neighbors and they're excited about a new house and they're chomping at the bit to get back in ... buy new furniture and start all over again."

According to city records, more than 320 homes are under construction in Santa Rosa. Several have already been completed in the Sonoma County wine country city of around 175,000 people.

'Take some deep, deep breaths'

While city leaders estimate it will take a minimum of five years to fully rebound, the example of Coffey Park's early resurgence could be especially inspiring for the Northern California city of Redding, which is grappling with the aftermath of yet another historic wildfire.

More than a thousand homes in Redding and its surrounding communities have been destroyed by the Carr Fire. Like last year's Tubbs Fire, the fast-moving blaze turned almost everything it touched to ash, reducing homes and lives to mere remnants.

Santa Rosa City Manager Sean McGlynn, who spent part of last week in Redding sharing his experiences from a challenging year, advises against moving too fast as Redding starts on the long road to recovery.

"You can move too quickly and risk not catching things that need to be repaired, or cause residents to enter spaces that are unsafe," McGlynn warns in a city press release.

Echoing that sentiment, Santa Rosa's Mayor Chris Coursey stressed the need for patience, especially in the early stages. "It's going to be a long haul and not everything will go smoothly," he said in a telephone interview.

"Just stop every once in a while take some deep, deep breaths."

'Coffey strong'

Wimmer, 65, credits a neighborhood support group formed in the wake of the disaster for helping residents navigate through the bureaucratic maze of insurance, FEMA assistance, and the permitting process.