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K aren Erickson bets she could name all her former neighbors on Bent Tree Place in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove area. She was one of the original residents of the short, tree-lined street, having moved there in 1990, about the time the subdivision off Parker Hill Road was developed. She forged close bonds with neighbors, especially fellow longtime residents. She and her husband, Joel, had no intention of leaving.
“I was a block captain before they had block captains,” Erickson said.
Her home was one of nearly 1,600 in the Fountaingrove area destroyed in 2017 by the Tubbs fire, which altogether leveled more than 4,600 homes, including more than 3,000 inside Santa Rosa. Twenty-two people died in the fire, including two who were overrun by flames in Fountaingrove.
The Ericksons fought with their insurer over coverage and discovered crews over-excavated their lot during debris removal, struggles that delayed their plans to rebuild. And their project — a dream home with a big pool, basketball court and exercise room — now appears too expensive for the couple to break ground, Erickson said. Builders are scarce, and their planned custom home and amenities make for a complicated and costly rebuild even under favorable market conditions, she said.
“We just have to wait it out. We just can’t pay $400, $500 per square foot,” said the 65-year-old retired physical therapist and community volunteer. “That would be our retirement money.”
The Ericksons’ lot is among 605 parcels inside Santa Rosa where no rebuilding activity has occurred since the 2017 fires, according to city records. More than 80% of those lots are in Fountaingrove, which also holds the vast majority of vacant, burned lots in Santa Rosa that have been sold since the Tubbs fire.
The patchwork of barren expansive lots in the hilly, upscale neighborhood reflects the daunting obstacles for recovery in the area.
Construction costs are substantially higher than in the flatland neighborhoods closer to Highway 101, including Coffey Park, where the rebuild is speeding toward completion.
After the Tubbs fire, hundreds of Fountaingrove homeowners also realized their insurance coverage was dramatically inadequate, with payouts that fell far short of covering expensive rebuilds. That realization sunk hopes of a swift return for many, including the Ericksons.
And for some, seeing the Kincade fire rush up to the city limits last fall — two years after the Tubbs fire laid waste to swaths of the city — added new reason to pause their plans. The recent blazes rekindled stories of the 1964 Hanly fire, which traced a nearly identical path to the Tubbs at a time when most of Fountaingrove was undeveloped.
Will Abrams, who lost a home off Riebli Road just north of city limits, is looking for more certainty — against the risk of insurance losses, planned PG&E blackouts and utility-sparked wildfires — before he forges ahead on building a new home.
“Nobody is expecting silver bullets,” said Abrams, who is living in the Skyhawk subdivision on the edge of Rincon Valley. “We should take every small step forward we can. But we need to see a trend of making things better for residents.”
Still others have pulled up stakes from Fountaingrove and sold their lots: At least 155 burned parcels in the area have changed hands since the fires, a turnover that’s roughly triple the number of sales of idle lots in Coffey Park.