Cleaning up and rebuilding after a wildfire levels a home is challenging enough, as thousands of Sonoma County residents can now attest.
But when a homeowner can’t even reach their property because the bridge to it also has burned down, the rebuilding process gets a whole lot more complicated.
Dozens of rural property owners are now coming to grips with the fact that before they can rebuild their homes, they’ll have to get permission to reconstruct what were often antiquated bridges to comply with modern building codes.
“If it’s going to be this big a hassle to get my bridge rebuilt, what’s it going to be like getting my house rebuilt?” said Roger Maples, a plumbing contractor who lost his home on Linda Lane in the Tubbs fire.
Like many of his neighbors, Maples had a 15-foot-long wooden bridge that was completely destroyed in the blaze. Now he has a gap in his driveway that prevents him from getting any vehicles onto the property.
That means cleanup crews, whether private contractors or those working through the Army Corps of Engineers, won’t be able to remove debris from the site until a temporary bridge is installed. After that, a permanent bridge will have to be rebuilt according to current building codes.
Maples is far from alone.
There were at least 72 private bridges in areas of Sonoma County burned by the Oct. 9 Tubbs and Nuns fires, which killed at least 23 people and destroyed more than 5,100 homes.
Of those spans, 27 have been completely destroyed, seven are damaged, and eight were damaged but have already been repaired, said Nathan Quarles, deputy director of the engineering and construction for the county Permit and Resource Management Department.
Another 29 structures escaped damage while one had yet to be reached by county inspectors as of Monday, Quarles said.
Three public pedestrian bridges in Santa Rosa were also destroyed in the flames, including a pair on Parker Hill Road. The city plans to replace all of them.
Helping homeowners rebuild damaged or destroyed bridges is a priority for the county, with such requests getting expedited review by planning and building staff, Quarles said.
“These bridges are a critical path, both literally and figuratively, to getting these sites cleaned up,” he said.
The county has held two special meetings to help homeowners understand the various regulatory requirements involved in rebuilding a bridge.
A third is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at the PRMD hearing room, 2550 Ventura Ave., in Santa Rosa.
The Army Corps of Engineers is skilled at quickly installing temporary bridges, often referred to as Bailey bridges.
Army Corps spokesman Rick Brown said such bridges can be installed in hours in most cases, but the agency does not yet know how many of the properties the corps has been asked to clean up will require bridges.
Owners of more than 80 percent of the 5,130 homes destroyed in Sonoma County were expected to use contractors managed by the Army Corps to remove debris from their properties.
When those contractors do install such bridges for cleanup work, it will be solely for access by their crews, and the bridge will be removed after work is complete, Army Corps officials said.
Maples’ bridge crossed what is known locally as Linda Lane Creek, which feeds into Mark West Creek, a key habitat for protected steelhead trout and coho salmon.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here