Jim Finn’s lavish home in the hills above Santa Rosa is gone. But his million-dollar view remains the same.
As the 60-year-old doctor walked the rubble Saturday of his Fountaingrove home — among the thousands in Sonoma County leveled by the most destructive wildfire in California history — he peered past charred treetops and other torched houses at a vista stretching clear to Sebastopol.
“It is a gorgeous view,” said Finn, who had lived in the 3,600-square-foot one-story home on Rocky Point Way since 2000. “That’s why I bought the house.”
Finn was among hundreds allowed to return Saturday to the devastated Fountaingrove area, which boasted some of the region’s most opulent homes but also included more modest condos and townhouses. Residents streamed back to see it all for the first time and hunt for prized belongings in the ashes.
A day earlier, residents of another neighborhood hit hard by the Tubbs fire, Coffey Park in west Santa Rosa, were permitted past police barriers. Altogether, about 6,800 structures — most of them homes — were lost in the blaze that claimed 23 lives in Sonoma County.
Tom Stekkinger, whose Vintage Circle home was reduced to dust and debris, came back Saturday with a friend to look for the wedding ring of his late wife, Dana. She died last year of breast cancer, leaving her husband and 8-year-old son, Jackson.
After searching in the area for an armoire where he’d kept it, Stekkinger’s friend discovered the keepsake coated in ash.
Stekkinger raised it high above his head as other neighbors cheered.
“That just made my day,” said Stekkinger, an IT manager, as he fought back tears. “It’s been a long road. We got kind of a double-whammy.”
Much of Fountaingrove was laid to waste by the flames that spread west from Calistoga across oak-studded hills into Santa Rosa. The wind-whipped inferno tore through Sky Farm — named for its breathtaking views — and along Fountain Grove Parkway, taking the new $4 million firehouse, a shopping center and ridgeline homes owned by some of the city’s most prominent residents.
Those coming back nearly two weeks later drove past blackened lawns and manzanita to find only foundations and charred mailboxes still standing. They pushed past melted patio furniture and twisted garage doors to dig for jewels and family heirlooms, settling for anything they could find.
Ron and Darlene Adams pulled into the driveway of their Rincon Ridge Drive home of 16 years to survey the devastation. Front steps led to a scorched archway with nothing but debris behind it. Their two burned Lexus cars sat in what was left of the garage. Darlene Adams pulled a metal cat sculpture from the rubble.
The retired couple vowed to rebuild.
“I told him this was a tough way to get new wood floors in the family room,” Darlene Adams joked.
A few streets away, on Rocky Point Way, Leo and Nan Cook also returned but with an army of relatives to help them find treasured items. Charred landscape boulders, a free-form pool and unobstructed views nearly to the ocean hinted at the grandeur that was lost.
Nan Cook, a retired social worker, also vowed to rebuild. She said the last time she saw her home was when she and her husband raced out the door with their seven pets the night of the fire. They made their way to a parking lot on Farmers Lane where they watched flames devour the hills.
New hours and customer tips
New Saturday hours begin at the Santa Rosa Department of Motor Vehicles on Aug. 4
Currently, the office is open the first and third Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Don’t wait for a renewal notice. Expiration dates are printed on each driver’s license, and appointments can be made 90 days ahead.
Look for appointments at nearby DMV offices like Petaluma, Napa, Novato and Ukiah, and keep checking back for cancellations.
Consult the DMV checklist before arrival to ensure you bring proper documentation.
Check the DMV website to make sure your transaction can’t be completed online, like vehicle registration renewal.
Information about the REAL ID is available at dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/realid