SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — The sounds of recovery are all over the North Bay, but nowhere more than Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park, where some of the heaviest damage was caused by the Wine Country Wildfires a year ago.
Resident Michael Williams rebuilt his home with his own two hands.
“It’s close to impossible if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s close,” said Williams.
He has been a contractor for ten years and a carpenter for 29, so knows how hard the rebuilding process can be.
“It’s a different type of rebuilding. There’s not infrastructure. No water no power and no one knows what to do to get you some of that stuff that you need,” explained Williams.
And that is just the beginning. The high cost per square foot, the low number of available laborers and insurance woes are all hurdles many families face. Not to mention the emotional aspect that is overwhelming for many.
“Can you go through and rebuild your house — the footprint, the finishes, the elevations — and be able deal with that. And constantly think, ‘I’m rebuilding my house because I lost my own?'” said Jeff Okrepkie, another Santa Rosa resident in the midst of a rebuild.
Okrepkie can and is, but he was appropriately insured and started the process right away. The city of Santa Rosa estimates that at least half of the people who lost their homes in the fire have yet to settle with their insurance companies. Patrick MacCallum is still battling his insurers.
“They are slow and purposely slow and make it difficult,” said MacCallum.
Even when it’s all done and paid out, the money he will get from them won’t be enough to rebuild his Fountaingrove home. So he and his wife Judy won’t be rebuilding.
“It was an emotionally tough decision. Literally one of the toughest decisions Judy and I have ever had to make,” said MacCallum.
It’s a similar story in much of Fountaingrove. Once the city’s wealthiest neighborhood, it is now awash with ‘for sale’ signs. The cost per square foot to rebuild in that hilly landscape is — in some cases — almost twice what insurance pays out. Zoe Miller’s Wikiup neighborhood is the same way.
“It’s incredibly stressful. You come home, you hear from the builder, the price…and you just cry because you don’t know how you’re going to pay for it,” said Miller.
She’ll have to use her contents pay out — money earmarked for furnishings – to pay off construction costs. It does a lot to explain why she’s one of only two houses rebuilding on her street.
“I thought people would rebuild faster, or make a decision to do it faster. I didn’t realize that the inability to move on was so powerful,” said Miller.
But for all the challenges and the trauma, many are making their way through it the struggle. Neighborhoods are taking shape again. Some have even rebuilt and returned home.
And for those still slogging through the process, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s a very emotional thing when you see someone come back into their home because its like, you fought, you maintained, you were determined and pushed forward. And now you’re here! And we’re just so damn happy for you,” said Okrepkie.