Rebuilding after the fires: First home rises in Coffey Park



THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | February 22, 2018

The first home went up in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood, kids returned to school, debris removal was completed and a larger builder pulled out of the rebuilding effort. Here’s a recap of key events in Coffey Park in January and February.

The first home

The new year began with construction workers erecting a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on Kerry Lane. It is the first home destroyed in the October wildfires to be rebuilt in Santa Rosa, where 3,000 residences were leveled during the firestorm.

Workers were able to reuse the home’s foundation, an exception in Coffey Park, where the vast majority of foundations were removed as part of the government-funded debris cleanup. The foundation’s concrete underwent strength testing and the results “were well above the minimum requirements,” said Dan Bradford, the property’s owner.

Bradford expects the home to be completed this spring. He expressed excitement at the progress and said he is “praying it gives hope to others that rebuilding in a timely manner is a distinct possibility.”

His builder, Lake County Contractors of Cobb, is among a number of construction companies large and small that are seeking work in Coffey Park. Many of those contractors have said they expect to begin work there this spring.

Back to school

Police, firefighters, National Guard personnel, community members and elected officials converged in early January to welcome nearly 400 students returning to the neighborhood’s Schaefer Elementary School.

Schaefer had been closed since October because of concerns over the effects of debris cleanup on campus air quality. As a result, students and teachers temporarily held classes at three other campuses in the Piner-Olivet school district.

Officials said air monitoring tests in December showed it was safe to reopen the school after winter break.

On the morning of their return, students found their playground filled with fire engines, police cars, motorcycles and at least one Army National Guard Hummer. First responders greeted the students and handed out hundreds of stuffed animals.

Parents and a school official spoke of the strong bonds made between teachers and children in the aftermath of the fires. They said the children are learning firsthand about compassion, caring and how people bounce back from adversity.

“You look for a silver lining, and that’s been our silver lining,” said John Way, a Schaefer parent and Piner-Olivet school board member.

Builder pulls out

DeNova Homes, a large Bay Area homebuilder, canceled plans in January to rebuild homes in Coffey Park.

The Concord company sent neighborhood residents a letter announcing its decision. DeNova cited concerns that its construction partners could not guarantee the “resources that are necessary to implement our cost-effective production model.”

It wasn’t revealed how many homeowners were affected by the company’s decision. DeNova recently stated that 75 homeowners had expressed “serious interest” in working with the builder, Coffey Strong chairman Jeff Okrepkie said.

The withdrawal fueled concern that other builders could have trouble getting enough construction workers to accommodate all the homeowners who want to rebuild this year.

“Our fear is that this is a bellwether of the way things are going to go,” Okrepkie said.

Debris removal complete

Before January ended, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced its contractors had completed the cleanup of debris from more than 1,200 houses in Coffey Park.

Labor Shortage May Slow Progress in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park Rebuild

By Sam Brock

Published at 6:28 PM PST on Jan 29, 2018 | Updated at 8:26 PM PST on Jan 29, 2018

The first sign of a new home rising from the ashes in Santa Rosa’s fire-ravaged Coffey Park neighborhood came days after a major builder announced last week it is pulling the plug on plans for rebuilding dozens of homes.

The first shell of a new house appeared Monday on land in the middle of the burn zone, and in a few months, a family should be able to move back into it.

But a potential shortage of labour could spell a long wait for many others, as heavyweight builder Denova couldn’t secure enough subcontractors to move forward with 75 more homes.

“Absolutely, there’s some symbolism!” Jeff Okrepkie said. “It’s a beacon of light for the community to see. The rebuild has started.”

One observer on hand Monday, 78-year-old Stan Commerford, said he suffered a “double-whammy” in 2017.

“I was married for 56 years, and my wife died April 30,” he said. “And then my house burned down five months later.”

All Commerford wanted was a sign of a resurgent rebuild. But the lifelong Santa Rosa resident was reading the tea leaves, and they didn’t look good.

“My house burned to the ground; I want to rebuild,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to have the labour to do it!”

Subcontractors serve as a lifeblood of sorts for home development. And after Denova said it couldn’t find enough subcontractors to help with 75 homes, some folks got spooked.

“The subcontractors, and especially the framers among those subcontractors and general contractors, are trying to find labor to ramp up to do that,” Okrepkie said. “And cost of living without access to local labor is just compounding the problem.”

Ed Waller, CEO of Shook & Waller, used to run arguably the largest home framing company in town. Now, his company builds custom homes. He was asked if the labor concerns are legitimate.

“Well, there really wasn’t that amount of work here,” he said. “It was a pretty normal market, so we all have framers, but we didn’t expect this to come. It would be a legitimate concern if the expectations were to rebuild maybe 4,000 homes in two years. Then, I think, legitimately we would have a labor shortage.”

Insurance companies are required to cover homeowners for living expenses and cost of replacement for only two years, though a bill has been introduced in Sacramento to change that.

Reconstruction underway on Coffey Park home after North Bay fires

By Wayne Freedman

Thursday, January 25, 2018

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) —

In Santa Rosa, there’s a very big deal about a little house. If you’ve been to Coffey Park since the devastating wildfire, you know there isn’t much there.

And if you’ve visited recently, you also know the exception.

Three months and counting after the firestorm, and Coffey Park is mostly a flat, scraped, mud-scape with one exception — 1613 Kerry Lane.

The little yellow house will have three bedrooms, two baths, and 1235 square feet when finished. Until then, it’s rising like a phoenix from the sodden soot.

“I’ll show you around the laundry area,” said Dan Bradford, the past, present and future owner. His reconstruction project has become a beacon of hope around here.

“What’s the secret?” we asked.

“Be assertive. Maybe aggressive if you need to be. And have the realization that you can do it one step at a time and get it done,” Dan said.

Dan is a hospital respiratory therapist who has navigated the rebuilding red tape with guile and fortune. For starters, he had enough insurance. And, he found the original plans for his house in a local draftsman’s shop. “I was lucky. I am lucky,” he said.

Dan hired a contractor out of Lake County, one with more-than-a-little experience at rebuilding burned homes the in the past two years.

The move appears to have paid off. Early in the process, Rob Williams of Lake County contractors advised Dan to dismiss FEMA’s clean-up offer, hoping to save the foundation from heavy excavators.

It worked. “If he had gone with FEMA, they would have torn it out,” said Williams. “He would have been like these other lots. Waiting.”

Instead, construction began with the new year. By May, the house will be finished. “Ever get the feeling you’re building a symbol?” we asked Williams.


He found Rob Williams, a contractor from Lake County with just a little experience at restoring burned homes. They began by saving the foundation.

“Yes, by the amount of traffic coming by every day.”

His company now has a waiting list and his employees, plenty of work ahead.

“Any advice for your neighbors?” we asked Dan.

“Yes. They should take the time to look around at their options,” he said.

So says the owner of that little yellow house, pushing up.

First home being rebuilt in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood after firestorm

By Justine WaldmanPublished: January 12, 2018, 8:57 pm

SANTA ROSA (KRON) — The North Bay wildfires destroyed 4,658 homes in October, and now, three months after the devastation, there is a sign of hope for the future of Santa Rosa.

One home is rising from the ashes, one nail and wood beam at a time.

The clang of construction thuds loudly in one corner of Coffey Park–on 1613 Kerry Ln.

A phoenix is rising from the ashes of the Tubbs fire

“Driving out, I knew it was bad with the propane tanks exploding,” homeowner Dan Bradford said.

Dan Bradford escaped the inferno with just his two dogs.

Determined to rebuild, he started construction of his new home on his old lot this week.

The wooden beams of the roof are now up.

With each swing of the hammer and pop of a nail gun, this neighborhood comes back to life.

The home is surrounded by hundreds of vacant lots.

It seems Dan won’t have neighbors for a while.

“Somebody said, ‘Yeah, you are going to have a difficult time borrowing a cup of sugar haha’,” Bradford said.

Dan admits he lucked out that the foundation was solid enough to rebuild his three-bedroom, two-bath house and found Lake County contractors were capable of taking on the challenge.

“I know there are people who are underinsured, and I feel really bad for them that they will go through a lot more than I have had to go through,” Bradford said.

Crews will keep pounding away. The home should be done in the spring.

“I hope it gives other people hope that they can rebuild that it won’t take three-to-four years that it can happen quickly,” Bradford said.

This is maybe the first home under construction here, but it won’t be the last.

First home rebuild begins in Santa Rosa’s burned Coffey Park neighborhood



THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | January 2, 2018, 5:53PM

Even as excavators loaded debris into trucks on nearby streets, two construction workers Tuesday stood atop the first new floor joists to rise above the burned ground of Coffey Park.

The home reconstruction project, the first such rebuild in Santa Rosa, sits in the 1600 block of Kerry Lane — in the middle of a neighborhood where the Tubbs fire destroyed 1,347 homes in October. Hundreds of the ruined houses since have been cleared away, leaving behind nearly whole blocks of ashen gray dirt and blackened tree trunks.

The rebuild of the three-bedroom, two-bath house on Kerry Lane began Saturday after the lot had been cleaned of debris, said Robert Williams, a partner in Lake County Contractors, a Cobb construction company. He wants his crew to frame walls for the single-story house by the end of the week.

“Hopefully this is the start of many more here,” said Williams, whose company rebuilt about 30 houses in Lake County after the 2015 Valley fire consumed nearly 1,300 homes there. On Tuesday morning, he stayed busy overseeing at least eight construction workers on the homesite.

Excavator operators and dump truck drivers far outnumber carpenters these days in Coffey Park, where debris cleanup remains the primary activity. But community leaders Tuesday lauded the news that the first home rebuilding project had begun in the city.

“It’s a ray of hope for everybody in the new year,” said Jeff Okrepkie, chairman of the Coffey Strong neighborhood rebuilding group. The work, he said, gives credence to the hope that neighbors can start to move back into their homes by year’s end.

Coffey Park, a compact collection of tract housing subdivisions, suffered the most concentrated destruction from the October wildfires that claimed 24 lives and leveled 5,130 homes in Sonoma County.

Kerry Lane sits surrounded by what the fires wrought. When Williams’ company completes the first house there in about four months, the closest neighbor will live more than three football fields away in any direction.

As a portable generator hummed nearby, Williams explained that his company managed to start work so quickly in part because it was able to reuse the original foundation. His workers put a coat of epoxy over the concrete to further enhance its durability, he said.

In contrast, he said, the company is planning to replace the foundation for a two-story home project on a nearby cul-de-sac off Hopper Lane.

The vast majority of burned foundations were removed in Coffey Park as part of government-sponsored debris removal there. But property owners can use any remaining foundations if the concrete is tested by a registered civil or structural engineer, said Clare Hartman, Santa Rosa’s deputy director of planning.

The Kerry Lane property is the first rebuild project in a Santa Rosa fire zone to receive a building permit, Hartman said.

But property owners already have requested permits to rebuild 11 other homes, including four more in Coffey Park and seven in the Fountaingrove area, where 1,519 homes were destroyed.

Meanwhile, county officials by Tuesday afternoon had issued 17 building permits for both damaged and destroyed homes and other structures, said Tennis Wick, the county’ planning director.

The Kerry property owner, Dan Bradford, explained by email Tuesday that Mark Mitchell, another partner in the contracting company, had encouraged him to have his foundation tested and “all the strength tests were well above the minimum requirements.”

Families Rebuild After Disastrous Valley Fire



Four months after the Valley Fire ripped through the communities of Cobb and Middletown, the first couple whose home was in the process of being rebuilt is getting ready to move back in.

In many ways the story of Ron Haskett and Katherine Spencer-Ahart is the story of Middletown and Cobb. Its one of love, hardship and new beginnings.

“We knew our place was gone, but it’s still real hard to see in real life,” said Haskett.

Their home was one of the 1,800 structures brought down by the indiscriminate Valley Fire.

While many of their neighbors left their houses, Haskett and Spencer-Ahart immediately went to work on a new one. Their’s will be the first destroyed house rebuilt. They’re already turning it into a home.”

“This is the living room, this is going to be a wood stove over in this corner. Open into the kitchen,” said Spencer-Ahart.

“The recovery has actually been pretty amazing,” said Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown.

Brown says phase one of fire recovery is complete. Areas with high erosion risk have been addressed, down trees and home debris which covered much of Middletown has been cleared.

“In some areas, just a block away from this devastation here, you drive through town and you wouldn’t even know there was a fire here,” said Brown.

All over the affected areas is a feeling of redemption. Signs of hope cover what was once peoples lives turned into piles of rubble.

As this town arises from the fire, a spirit of new beginnings has caught on, these two ran with it.

“We got engaged in front of that window on Christmas Eve,” said Haskett.
“It was amazing. It was unexpected and um, totally unexpected … It meant a lot,” said Spencer-Ahart.

Their new beginning, Haskett hopes, inspires others who may have lost a house to realize they haven’t lost their home.

“It’s a lot of hope. Can’t wait to get home,” said Haskett.