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Read more stories about Coffey Park's recovery here

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

A darkness so discomforting it caused people to string battery-powered lights on dead trees for Christmas cheer is getting pushed back a little farther from Coffey Park.

The fire-ravaged neighborhood in northwest Santa Rosa today is slated to have its last section of streets illuminated with temporary streetlights.

Pacific Gas & Electric Company Tuesday energized the first set of LED streetlights on wooden poles west of Coffey Lane. The final streetlight section is scheduled to light up Friday evening east of Coffey Lane.

The temporary electrical system features approximately 226 poles — a majority with streetlights — plus 155 transformers and 81,000 feet of power lines.

Neighbors love the extra light.

“It gives you a ray of hope,” said Lani Jolliff, whose home still stands at the north end of the neighborhood.

Coffey Park went black in the early hours of Oct. 9 after the Tubbs fire swept down from the eastern hills, jumped the six lanes of Highway 101 and destroyed 1,300 homes in the compact neighborhood of tract houses. Wildfires that month claimed 24 lives and leveled 5,100 homes in Sonoma County.

Ever since, Coffey Park at night has been a foreboding place, a debris-strewn landscape of burned cars, standalone chimneys and silhouetted tree trunks.

“It was just dark and desolate,” said Jeff Okrepkie, chairman of the Coffey Strong neighborhood rebuilding group. “It was very depressing.”

He said the temporary streetlights were another step in the neighborhood’s recovery, and “I know for the residents with houses standing it’s a huge deal.”

The darkness this month prompted an informal band of volunteers to string battery-powered Christmas lights along Hopper Avenue west of Coffey Lane. The extensive holiday lights drew crowds last weekend and will be illuminated again Friday night and through Christmas Eve, said Ronnie Duvall, the Red Cross volunteer who first started the light stringing.

Since the fire, the lack of streetlights has made driving difficult in Coffey Park streets after work, said Nan Bowers, whose home still stands on Windrose Lane. At night, drivers can’t make out the names of fire-scorched street signs, Bowers said, “and you’re lucky if you turn on the correct street.”

Jolliff, a block captain for Coffey Strong, said she and other neighbors called immediately for replacing the streetlights as a matter of public safety.

“There are just certain things you expect to be there,” she said.

After the fire, PG&E began to plan how to return power to the neighborhood, where the original electrical lines sit underground.

“And because of the devastation in the area, of course, we decided on a two-step process — the temporary overhead rebuild and then the full rebuild,” Marty Sunday, electric superintendent for PG&E’s Sonoma Division, said in a statement. To make the streets safer, the utility added streetlights to the temporary poles.

Neighbors have seen PG&E crews working on the power pole and streetlight project for weeks, said PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras. Friday night they will be able to see the culmination of all that work.

“The lights will be lit up for the whole neighborhood ... for the first time since the fires,” Contreras said.

PG&E crews have started installing temporary overhead power lines for the Mark West and Larkfield areas north of Santa Rosa, she said.

Sunday said utility workers eventually will rebuild Coffey Park’s underground system in coordination with the city and phone service providers likely sharing a common trench with the electrical and natural gas lines.

For that effort, he suggested, a joint solution must be found.

“For example,” Sunday asked, “are we going to put it back in the same trench or are we going to trench alongside what we already have?”

Sunday didn’t predict how long it would take to rebuild the permanent electrical system. But he said the utility would seek to complete the project as quickly as possible.

“PG&E employees live in that area, too,” he said, “so when we’re out there working it is emotional for them and their families.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.

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