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Read all of the PD's fire stories here

Residents of fire-ravaged Journey’s End Mobile Home Park will soon be allowed back into the property at the north end of Santa Rosa, possibly as soon as Thursday, but the bigger question — whether they will ever be able to call it home again — remains unanswered.

Owners of the property, a haven for low-income seniors since the 1960s, have yet to decide whether they will restore the burned-out water, gas, power and sewer systems that serve the 161 sites rented by residents who own their homes.

“The future is unclear,” said Greg Evans, president of the Santa Cruz-based company that manages the park on behalf of the owners, a family Evans declined to name. “We are trying to assess the options.”

Meanwhile, Evans said he hopes to have security guards limiting park access to residents and others with business there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting Thursday and continuing through Sunday.

After Sunday, there will be no guards and residents are being advised to take steps to secure their property, he said.

Information about access for residents will be posted on the Journey’s End Facebook page as soon as it is confirmed, Evans said.

The park manager said he scrambled to make the arrangements after the city on Wednesday lifted a closure order triggered by concerns of asbestos contamination in the ruins. The city action was based on word from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it had removed asbestos found near the site of the park’s communal laundry room. A complete closure of the property had been in place since Friday.

The Tubbs fire, which roared from Calistoga to Santa Rosa overnight on Oct. 8, devoured about 130 mobile homes on the property and killed Journey’s End resident Linda Tunis, 69, one of the wildfire’s 21 victims.

About 30 homes remain standing, some damaged by the blaze, said Evans, president of Evans Management Services, which operates more than 40 mobile home parks statewide.

The entire park remains uninhabitable, he said, lacking utilities and with no immediate plan for restoring them.

“We have all these questions and no answers,” said Inger Simonsen, 71, a former Los Angeles area resident who moved into Journey’s End two years ago. “We’re really in a pickle.”

Her mobile home, which sustained fire damage, probably can be repaired, Simonsen said, but she and other residents are wondering if they should relocate to another park. The problem with that option, she said, is there appear to be no vacancies at area mobile home parks.

Among residents, speculation abounds that Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, the park’s southern neighbor, is interested in buying the property on which the park was built in 1959.

Not so, said David Ebright, a Kaiser spokesman. “It’s a rumor.”

But Evans acknowledged that the owners have been approached by apparent investors interested in acquiring the land.

Longtime residents recall the controversy that erupted in 1995 when Home Depot proposed razing the mobile home park to make way for a new store. The project was dropped in the face of strong public opposition to the idea of displacing the elderly park residents.

Confusion erupted Wednesday morning when Santa Rosa officials released a statement that the city had “lifted the access restriction” to Journey’s End, based on word from the EPA that asbestos found amid the ash and rubble last week had been removed.

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Residents were subsequently left standing at the locked park gate, and city officials clarified that their shutdown order had been lifted but the decision to open the park was up to the owners.

The park had been closed since Friday pending tests of materials possibly containing asbestos found the day before by EPA crews conducting a countywide cleanup of household hazardous waste.

Three samples tested positive for asbestos and the materials were “removed and disposed of properly,” EPA spokeswoman Margot Perez-Sullivan said in a statement Wednesday. EPA crews will return to remove all household hazardous waste, she said.

EPA officials advised the Santa Rosa Fire Department Wednesday that the asbestos had been removed, according to city statement. The asbestos was found in an area where the park’s communal laundry room was located, the release said.

The laundry room and other park facilities, including a kitchen, recreation hall, pool, workshop and office, were destroyed, Evans said.

His first look at the apocalyptic scene was “a horrifying experience,” he said.

The park has refunded October rents and utility payments by all residents, amounting to nearly $80,000, Evans said.

But Simonsen, who is staying at a local hotel on Federal Emergency Management Agency vouchers, said her future remains clouded.

At Journey’s End, she paid about $600 a month for rent and utilities, and enjoyed life among friendly neighbors within walking distance of stores and the Kaiser hospital.

“I’m really in limbo,” she said. “I just want to be done with this and get on with my life.”

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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