29 Nov North Bay Fires
It’s hard to describe the scene after the North Bay fires. Driving through the hardest-hit neighborhoods is exactly how I picture a war zone. Burned-out cars, still sitting on the driveways of now-gone homes. Charred rubble piled beneath twisted, blackened trees. Graffiti marking no-go zones from those that have been cleared. The thing that strikes me most is the emptiness. Unlike the tornado scenes I’m accustomed to from the Midwest, with splintered debris scattered like toothpicks for miles, the fires left almost nothing in their wake. Structures melted in-place. Everything else, all of most peoples’ earthly possessions, was consumed as they fled in the middle of that October night. Only eerie chimneys dot the blackened landscape.
After talking with dozens of fire survivors, a few themes persist. Most are haunted by the glow of the fire on a nearby hilltop before going to bed October 7th, wondering which way the winds would blow. Several pounded on neighbors’ doors when, in the middle of the night, those winds turned their direction. Some couldn’t escape and jumped in their pools to avoid the flames, spending the entire night there. Many told me fondly about a prized possession that was lost – a first edition Eames chair, a piece of Chinese art – still with a palpable sense of pride. I expect that pride will turn bitter when rebuilding takes place, and survivors are forced to make a home without these treasured memories.
Then again, maybe I’ll be surprised. The strongest theme to persist, the one that surprises me the most, is the utter resilience. No one wanted to dwell on their loss or their fears. Each one was thankful to have escaped with their life, to have helped a neighbor, to still live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, even if the landscape is scarred for the moment. And they want to start rebuilding.
That’s why we’re here. To listen to the needs, to learn from this tragedy, and to help make people whole again.
Almost every person we’ve spoken to was under-insured, and now faces a daunting gap between what they had and what they can afford to rebuild. Many are considering a smaller, simpler home – not an ideal solution in an area already plagued by housing shortages and skyrocketing rents. Earlier this year Santa Rosa (realtor.com) was credited with the ninth worst housing shortage among US cities. The fires destroyed an estimated 5 percent of existing housing – around 6,000 homes were completely lost, and 14,000 structures were damaged. All this at a time when skilled construction labor is at an all-time low.
Rather than building smaller, we propose rebuilding smarter. Homes that preserve natural resources, work with the environment, and slow the devastating cycle of damage/ rebuild. Homes that can be built in half the time, achieving higher quality with less skilled labor. Homes and landscaping that are designed to resist fire. Homes that promote density and make it easy to generate rental income. Homes that are pre-designed, code compliant, and ready for permit. Homes that don’t compromise.
Acre is already dedicating staff and resources to the North Bay rebuild. We’re staying on top of clean-up efforts and shifting regulatory demands across Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties. We’re engaging with policy-makers, homeowner’s associations, environmental groups and insurance providers, so we can provide reliable guidance in the rebuild process.
We’ve created a landing page to answer Fire Rebuild questions HERE.