Santa Rosa residents return to neighborhood devastated by fire

A man takes a photo of the devastation in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. (KENT PORTER/ The Press Democrat)


A smattering of northwest Santa Rosa residents returned Monday morning to see if their homes were still standing amid the burning ruins off Hopper Avenue.

In a single neighborhood east of Coffey Lane that includes Skyview and Crestview drives, only a dozen of the more than 200 single-family houses remained intact. Among them was the home of Grace Muga, who lives on Skyview with her parents and two siblings.

She returned with friend Farai Jumbe about 8 a.m. Monday to find the home largely untouched. When told how few of the neighbors’ homes survived, the two women dropped to their knees in disbelief.

Next door, a neighbor’s fence still burned, threatening Muga’s house. But a Santa Rosa firetruck pulled up and quickly doused the flames. A firefighter advised Muga that a garden hose was nearby should she need it. As the crew got back in their truck, Muga called out, “God, watch over them, please.”

Muga looked across the street where a dozen chimneys stood.

“These are my neighbors,” she said.

In the midst of the destruction, she thanked God that her family’s home and her father’s truck had been untouched. Roughly 20 vehicles had been destroyed in her neighborhood.

“It’s a miracle,” Muga said as she looked at her home.

The fire’s damage extended through the Coffey Park neighborhood and slightly west of the railroad tracks off San Miguel Avenue. While some homes survived, much of the area was reduced to standing brick chimneys and smoldering ruins. Charred cars and trucks rested on the remains of their metal wheels.

At first anyone could gain access to the neighborhoods. But by 9:30 a.m., police and other city workers had begun to block access to streets, including the north side of Coffey Lane at Piner Avenue.

At Frida Street off San Miguel Avenue, all the homes on the east side still stood, while nearly all the homes on the west had been turned into rubble, with natural gas lines still belching flames.

There, John Murdick stood atop his home on the east side and doused the roof with a garden hose. Asked how long he’d lived there, he yelled, “Twenty-seven years. And I’m not giving up.”

Murdick evacuated in the early morning but returned with his wife, Joyce, shortly before 9 a.m.

Soon a neighbor, Peggy Sharp, drove up with partner Steve Balch to confirm that Sharp’s home had been destroyed across the street. Sharp remained stoic until she saw Joyce Murdick approach. The two neighbors hugged and wept.

“It’s unbelievable,” Sharp said later. “Just like that.”