The Tubbs fire’s toll grew to include costly water and storm drain infrastructure in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood, where cleanup is now picking up pace and public safety authorities have stepped up their traffic oversight in the wake of a serious multi-vehicle dump truck crash. A recap of the recovery so far in Fountaingrove:
The hillside neighborhood of Fountaingrove was always going to face an uphill battle to rebuild following the fires.
Removing debris from 1,420 home sites located on the winding roads of the northeast Santa Rosa enclave was by definition going to be a more formidable undertaking than clearing a flat, level subdivision like Coffey Park.
Major infrastructure damage, including melted storm drains and a contaminated water supply, have further hindered the effort.
So, 4½ months after the fires, while the rebuilding effort is underway in Coffey Park, it has yet to really begin on the hills east of Highway 101. While the majority of homeowners affected by the October fires have participated in the government cleanup effort, a higher percentage of residents in Fountaingrove residents have opted to hire private contractors to clear their lots, thanks in part to better insurance coverage.
But the private cleanup has significantly lagged the work orchestrated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a fact that recently prompted the city and county to set an April 9 deadline for private cleanups.
While progress is being made to rebuild Fountaingrove, tangible signs of it have been tougher to see so far in 2018.
Infrastructure in peril
The first sign of just how compromised Fountaingrove’s infrastructure had become following the fires was when sinkholes opened up and officials issued landslide warnings for the area.
The intense heat of the fires that destroyed more than 3,000 homes in the city also melted several sections of high-density polyurethane storm drain pipe, allowing rainwater to undermine sections of earth and roadway.
Quick action by the city combined with the dry winter to date have helped the city stay on top of the issue, and all the known-to-be damaged storm drains have been repaired.
A more insidious problem is the contamination of the drinking water in the area. The city is mystified by how the volatile hydrocarbon benzene is getting into the water system and how to fix the problem.
Despite hundreds of water tests, detailed mapping of the results and replacement of equipment, officials remain confounded and contemplating the possibility that a $20 million replacement of the water system may be the only solution.
Only a portion of Fountaingrove is affected. An advisory was issued for 184 acres on both sides of Fountaingrove Parkway, including approximately 350 homesites, mostly off Fir Ridge Drive, South Ridge Drive and parts of Crown Hill Drive.
And the handful of residents whose homes survived and who have returned to the area have been alerted to the problem and supplied with clean drinking water.
But the more tests the city takes, the more benzene it seems to find. Since Dec. 12, there have been more than 100 test results confirming the presence of benzene at levels higher than 1 part per billion, which is the maximum containment level for benzene in drinking water in the state.
Fountaingrove residents seem to have confronted the most disparity in government-chartered cleanup work of their burned homesites. While many residents initially questioned why foundations had to be removed at all, residents of three lots on Sedgemoore Drive had the opposite experience.
Read all of the PD’s fire coverage here