Residents of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood sift through ashes, recover belongings

Jeremiah Kahmoson, center, is helped by Arienne Dodrill, left, David Gutting, rear, and Jerry Dodrill, right, as he sifts the the remains of his home in the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, October 10, 2017. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)


Coffey Park residents Tuesday morning continued to find ways back to their ruined homes in the northwest Santa Rosa neighborhood.

There they pulled out safes and sifted through ashes. They surveyed their lots and recalled what had been. They wept and hugged.

Extra street barricades, typically monitored by city workers, kept most people from driving into the burned area. Even so, many residents simply parked cars west of the SMART train tracks and walked in.

Among them were Veomany Thammasoth, her husband, Ko, and three relatives. The family returned to their car with Thammasoth’s brother pushing a two-wheeled grocery cart containing a safe pulled from the wreckage of the couple’s Mocha Lane home.

Since the house was built nearly 30 years ago, the husband and wife had lived there with their two children and her parents.

“This is our only life,” Thammasoth said. “Now, it’s just vanished.”

Police officials continued Tuesday to urge people to stay clear of Coffey Park and other evacuation zones until the areas are judged safe.

“The message is do not return to the area,” said police spokeswoman Adriane Mertens.

However, she acknowledged the officers are finding the area perimeters “so big that they can’t patrol every access point, so people are entering.”

Those entering were doing so at their own risk, she said.

A day earlier, many sightseers had passed through Coffey Park and captured the devastation on video. Those present Tuesday morning generally seemed to be residents concentrated on one particular residential lot, one burned house.

As people searched their properties, police vehicles rolled through the area, from local agencies and Bay Area cities including Belmont, Benicia and San Francisco.

On Sumatra Drive, neighbors Jeremiah Kahmoson and Mike Bone took time to hug one another. Bone had just opened a safe at his home on nearby Nina Court. He expressed relief that important documents and other valuables remained intact.

Kahmoson, a special education teacher in Windsor, said the fire’s ruin was unforgettable. The same goes for the outpouring from friends, family and associates, he said.

“I’ve never felt support from a community like this,” he said.

A few blocks away stood a family whose members had lost two homes in Santa Rosa and were awaiting word on the fate of a third in Kenwood.

Lynn Van Fleit, who recently arrived from Alexandria, Virginia, planned this week to move into a home she purchased last month in Fountaingrove. In the meantime, she had been staying in Coffey Park on Hopper Avenue with her sister, Sue Komar, and Komar’s husband, Chris.

Both of their homes were leveled by Monday’s fire, and the Komars’ son and daughter-in-law have yet to learn if their Kenwood home remains standing.

Van Fleit said she and her sister will support one another as the family puts back what the fire destroyed.

“I see this as an opportunity to rebuild together,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or On Twitter @rdigit.