One year later: How we've changed

This is part of a report on the one-year anniversary of the October 2017 wildfires that forced tens of thousands to flee quickly and destroyed thousands of homes. Read more personal accounts from business and civic leaders as well as updates on the economic recovery.

Hockey-stick graphs that show exponential growth excite investors, and the recent surge in home-rebuilding activity has been a hat trick for those initially concerned that few dwellings were coming back out of the ground.

Thousands of burned lots in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties were cleaned of debris by March, homeowners started getting clarity on what insurance would cover for rebuilds by summer, then streamlined city and county processes started pumping out building permits.

“Rebuilding and recovery are fully underway,” said Keith Woods, CEO of North Coast Builders Exchange.

Of the upwards of 7,000 homes destroyed in the North Bay, Sonoma County lost the most, at over 5,300. As of Wednesday, the city of Santa Rosa reported 765 housing units were under construction, and permits for another 181 had been issued. Final inspections have been completed for 26 dwellings, and permits for 262 are under review.

In the burned areas of Sonoma County outside Santa Rosa, 401 fire-rebuild permits were under construction as of Wednesday, and 179 more have been issued but work hasn’t yet begun, according to the county’s online tally. Another 160 permits were under review, and work on 28 had been completed.

Of the issued permits, 544 were for single-family homes, and 41 for accessory dwelling units, often called granny units. Twenty-one permits were for driveway bridges.

The county of Napa as of Wednesday has issued or is ready to issue 98 building permits for rebuilds, according to its online tally. Another 66 applications for permits are being reviewed.

With more permit applications expected to roll into local governments in the next few months, the estimate is that 300 to 400 rebuilt dwellings will be completed by year-end, and 1,000 more could be in store for 2019, Woods said.

Insurance claims likely will be settled by 2020, and that will lead to a phase over the next three to five years when properties sold by those choosing not to rebuild will be returned to the market as homes not just for fire survivors but to satisfy the pent-up demand in the county, Woods said.

At the same time, local government leaders, major employers and business groups are coming up with a plan to accelerate housing construction outside the burn zones, Woods said.

“A lack of housing leads to a lack of employees, which leads to a lack of an economy in different cycles,” Woods said. “This is an economic-development issue.”

One year later: How we've changed

This is part of a report on the one-year anniversary of the October 2017 wildfires that forced tens of thousands to flee quickly and destroyed thousands of homes. Read more personal accounts from business and civic leaders as well as updates on the economic recovery.