At first, the temporary lodgings were kind of cool, despite being brought on by an unthinkable disaster.
After the October wildfires destroyed his Santa Rosa home, Andy Luttringer checked into the Flamingo hotel, one of the city’s most iconic inns with its pink neon sign and resortlike amenities that drew Hollywood stars of yesteryear.
Luttringer and his two adult children, Andy, 23, and Laura, 21, enjoyed a vacation away from misery. They could order room service, go to the bar or lie by the pool.
But the suitcase existence soon got old. The family had to switch rooms often to make way for other guests. And they got tired of hauling their laundry around.
The 300-square-foot hotel room wasn’t home.
“It was fun for about the first three days,” said Luttringer, 62, a widower and a retired cop who lost his spacious Fountaingrove house of 18 years in the Tubbs fire.
Now, nearly three months after they were displaced, the Luttringers are still at the Flamingo and plan to stay into the new year.
Like many people across Sonoma County, they will spend Christmas as paying guests with a parking lot for a view and strangers in the room next door.
Some of those guests have put up decorations. Others are filling their rooms with gifts, including belongings that needed to be replaced after the fires. The future for many is uncertain.
“I’ll be with my kids,” said Luttringer, who lost his late wife’s heirloom decorations in the fire. “That’s all that matters.”
The lingering residential limbo for fire refugees has translated into a continued surge in countywide hotel occupancy. In November it was 85 percent — the highest for the month in 11 years — as residents burned out of more than 5,100 homes sought refuge. Revenue increased more than 21 percent to $27.5 million based on a total room count of 6,283.
“There were thousands of people displaced by the fires,” said Steve Jung, head of the Sonoma County Lodging Association and general manager of the Double Tree by Hilton Sonoma Wine Country in Rohnert Park. “Obviously, that did increase the demand in the market.”
The number of fire victims contributing to the rise was expected to taper off this month as people locate permanent housing. The exact number still in hotels was not available.
Don Hamilton, the Flamingo’s front office manager, said he’s down to “a handful.” Since the October disaster, he’s put up about 690 people with FEMA vouchers and more than 100 people who were either covered by insurance or employers including area hospitals.
The hotel lowered its $329 weekend rate by 45 percent to help out, he said.
“We don’t want to make a fortune off other people’s misery,” Hamilton said.
Across town at Extended Stay America on Corby Avenue about eight families were remaining over the holidays, down from a peak of up to 25 families last month, said Ushma Arya, the general manager.
Some put up Christmas decorations, she said.
“They are happy now to be here,” Arya said. “At least they have shelter. They have some hope and roof over the heads.”