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

(From left) Joey Horst and Jesse Merritt with Lake County Contractors, and Tom Groff and Mike Kevas with Groff Plumbing work to rebuild a home on Kerry Lane in Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, January 2, 2018. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

ROBERT DIGITALE,

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.”

Bradford called it exciting to see the home going up and added he is “praying it gives hope to others that rebuilding in a timely manner is a distinct possibility.”

“I hope that all my neighbors in Coffey Park return, as well as all others who suffered loss in this catastrophic event,” he said.

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey acknowledged that the city has a long way to go to help rebuild 3,000 homes destroyed here by fire, “but the first one is significant.” He called it especially noteworthy that the Kerry Lane project had begun less than three months after the fire.

“I think it signifies that we’ve got some pretty plucky people in this community,” Coursey said. The rebuilding shows “this is doable, and it’s a start.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.