When Todd and Mary Caughey moved into their Kenwood home 22 years ago, they planted half a dozen coastal redwood trees on their 1-acre property, a reflection that they were ready to put down roots and raise their family.
Their son and daughter are now in high school. But their home was lost to the fires that burned through Sonoma Valley and Bennett Valley in October, destroying 652 homes in Kenwood, Glen Ellen and other parts of the two valleys.
The loss for the Caugheys included those prized redwoods, which remained standing but were sustained enough damage to raise concern that they would topple.
So the couple hired a woodworker to mill lumber from the trees, cutting them into 4-inch thick boards — shiny planks that are a first step toward the new home the family intends to build on the property. That dream is likely two to three years away, said Mary Caughey, 49.
“It’s unreal. You never in a million years guess you would be doing this at this age. Especially while raising teenagers,” she said.
Little goes smoothly
First, as with all other fire survivors contemplating rebuilding, the debris cleanup needed to happen. In Bennett and Sonoma valleys, including Kenwood and Glen Ellen, all but about two dozen of the properties signed up for government cleanup remained to be cleared, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which overseeing the largest number of projects in the region.
For the Caugheys, that step came on Jan. 2. Mary was upbeat about watching it all disappear, but her concern grew when the excavator kept digging.
“They scraped super deep,” she said. “It’s like a swimming pool.”
Mary was told by the Environmental Protection Agency that the standard for removal is 6- to 12-inches down and that’s what happened on the surrounding 23 burned home sites in their neighborhood.
The Caugheys’ lot was dug much deeper, in some places as deep as four feet. A locally based subcontractor for AshBritt Environmental, which is handling debris removal for the Army Corps, did the cleanup.
Caughey believes they removed too much dirt, and the couple worry about increased building costs because the ground will need to be made level with engineered fill and compacted.
“We don’t know if insurance will cover this,” Mary Caughey said.
The couple were insured, but like many homeowners affected by the fires they are worried their policy won’t cover the full cost of rebuilding.
“I don’t know exactly what this is all going to cost, but I know the insurance is not going to be enough to get us back to what we had,” Mary Caughey said.
In addition to the four-bedroom ranch-style house, there was a small barn where they kept chickens, Mary’s honeybee hives, Todd’s cabernet sauvignon vineyard and the landscaping — the redwoods, walnut, olive and fruit trees.
Some of the vines survived, and a rose bush burned to the ground is showing a few shoots. Mustard weed and daffodils have bloomed. Some of her beekeeping equipment made it through, but looters stole it.
Mary Caughey, a business office manager at Rincon Valley School, remains upbeat, waving her arm in the direction of Sugarloaf Mountain to the east and laughing. The trees that used to block their parts of their vista of the Mayacamas Mountains are gone.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here