Fire survivors from Santa Rosa’s Journey’s End feel ‘like we’ve been abandoned’
Michelle Trammell and her nearest neighbors can't go home. They can visit home, but not live there.
Several times a week, Trammell, who's 52, lets herself in through the chained gate at what remains of Journey's End, the north Santa Rosa mobile home park that was mostly leveled by the Tubbs fire.
She looks about to see what more has been looted from her yard and those of her neighbors. Then she unlocks the door of the aged mobile home that she shared with her mother, 72-year-old Rachael Crawford, until that morning last October.
Once inside her coach, Trammell putters. “It just makes me feel like I'm home when I'm there,” she said.
She puts out food for the cats that reside still among the 44 coaches that she and her boyfriend and a small team of genuinely heroic neighbors and firefighters saved - and as a result are credited with halting the fire's spread toward the neighboring Kaiser Permanente campus.
Also on her sojourns home, said Trammell, “I sit on the couch, listen to the radio. I say, ‘I know I could be living here right now.' It's sad that we're never going to live there again.”
44 mobile homes empty
Though her simple but beloved residence survived the firestorm, there is no escaping the peculiar, deeply layered conundrum that agonizes her and the other people who lived at the affordable and for the most part happy oasis that was the Journey's End Mobile Home Park.
Help has come to many of them, and they are openly grateful. But varying shades of misery are endemic to the scattered former Journey's End residents who lived in one of the 117 homes that burned or one of the 44 that can't be reoccupied because the 13.5-acre park is shut down.
“It's like we've been abandoned,” said Theresa Udall, who is 84 and had lived 14 years in a mobile home that survived the fire but can't currently be lived in.
“All of my life savings went into it.”
The Tubbs fire killed two Journey's End residents, incinerated its electrical and gas systems and irreparably contaminated the well supplying water to the community. In February, Ramsey Shuayto, a co-owner from the family that owns the site, at Mendocino Avenue and Fountaingrove Parkway, told residents they would work with nonprofit Burbank Housing to explore the feasibility of redeveloping the property into a mixture of affordable and market-rate apartments - long-term plans that have many fire survivors in a state of limbo.
Most are seniors, they aren't well off and they planned to live out their lives at the park because they liked it and, with monthly space rents of about $500, it was one of precious few places in Sonoma County they could afford.
Louise Smith had lived since 1980 in a Journey's End mobile home that survived the fire but is off limits to her.
Today Smith is sharing a Rohnert Park apartment with a nephew and his wife, and she has no idea if she'll ever be able to once again live independently.
“It's a hell of a mess,” she said. “I don't know what's happening. I'm 85 and it's really irritating.”
‘Can't start over'
The bind that entangles her and her 30-some neighbors whose homes still stand is that their insurance companies won't pay for residences that didn't burn, but the coaches can't be inhabited in a shut-down park and they most likely can't be moved.
Inger Simonsen at first thought it a miracle that her home on the southern end of the park's Sahara Street was saved.
“But as time went on it was like the biggest nightmare that never ends,” she said.
Simonsen, 72, had expected to live out her life at Journey's End.
“I really loved it. I loved my little house that I had made the way I wanted it. I had really good neighbors. I felt safe and secure.”
But today she still owes $20,000 on a home she can't live in and almost certainly can't afford to move. “I don't know what's going to happen,” she said.
A year after the fires, many don't know how or where in the world they will continue on.
“Pretty soon you won't have anyone poor living in Santa Rosa,” said Robert “Priest” Morgan.
A former renter at Journey's End, Morgan took up a fire hose last October and with four firefighters took a stand between the wind-crazed inferno and the homes at the park's south end - and, beyond that, the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center.
Several former residents of the mobile homes Morgan helped to save have told him, thanks, but they'd probably be better off had they burned.
“All of us are so stressed out,” said 82-year-old Dorothy Hughes, who at the time of the fire was adjusting to the death eight months earlier of her husband of 59 years, Albert.
“We're old, we can't start over like young people,” Hughes said.