Three months ago, wildfire raged through Fountaingrove business district in Santa Rosa, burning hotels, restaurants and stores in an inferno of destruction. Where flames left business buildings intact, tenants were kept out for nearly three weeks as crews worked to rid ventilation ducts and carpets of the stench of smoke, and to restore Internet, power and phones.
When they returned to their offices, business owners and employees encountered a bizarre realm, ordinary at one glimpse then juxtaposed in shocking contrast with ash, blackened trees and twisted ruination.
Weirdness persists as the business burn zone struggles back in a healing that will take years.
Though its building appeared resistant to fire with large adjacent parking lots, Santa Rosa Community Health’s Vista Campus on Round Barn Circle had its upper floor penetrated with flame, wrecking much of the interior. A window on that floor was broken, and may have served as the fire’s entry point.
In December, crews from Restoration Management Company gathered computer monitors and processing units and piled them in front of the entrance— worthless technology. To protect patient information, hard drives will be scrubbed clean. Hard drives can be wrecked even by smoke, according to a worker from Restoration Management.
Barely 100 steps across the street sits a BasinStreet Properties building that houses Pisenti & Brinker accounting firm.
“We’re back up and running,” said Brett Bradford, partner in the firm. “We were prevented from getting access to the building” for about three weeks.
About 25 people work for the company in Santa Rosa. “We went to our Petaluma office. We were able to squeeze everybody in,” Bradford said. “It was uncomfortable and tight. We had to get new equipment set up. Our servers were here. We had to sneak in and grab some of that. The servers were fine.”
They were lucky. Howling flames descended the hill and turned a car in the Vista parking lot across the street into a mound of melted aluminum and plastic. Tires on the car burned to powdered rubber. Two months later, the parking spot where the car had been was still blackened and charred, but the hulk was gone.
“The outside perimeter” of the Pisenti & Brinker building was scorched by fire, Bradford said, with “paint bubbling off.” The BasinStreet building is newer than the one that housed Santa Rosa Community Health, and it has an exterior like stucco, he said.
Joshua Moore, another partner at Pisenti & Brinker, notes the change in working environment. “It’s definitely a distraction,” Moore said. “I can see the crews all day long. The amount of people working on that building, how long they continued to work — amazing.” The restoration crews often set up lights and work into the night, he said.
Both partners expressed deep gratitude that their company’s headquarters survived. “Very close to home,” Moore said. Out of about 50 employees in the company, none lost a home in the fire; one of the founders did, Moore said, and family members of staff lost homes.
During the early days of the fire, “we checked on everybody’s mental well-being,” Bradford said. “Nobody was getting that much work done. Everybody was traumatized, worrying about what was going on. It was good to get everybody together, talk about their experience, a catharsis. Everybody was safe.”
More business coverage of the North Bay fires and recovery: nbbj.news/2017fires