Laura and Matt Krebs drove up to their home on Branch Owl Place in Santa Rosa’s Skyhawk neighborhood, honking their car horn and cheerfully waving at other neighbors also arriving, minutes after state fire officials lifted a five-day-old mandatory evacuation on their neighborhood.
Laura Krebs cringed slightly at the sound of her car horn. Early Saturday morning, some of her neighbors had driven through Skyhawk honking their horns to warn others of the ominous orange glow of fire in the mountains to the south.
“We’re so thankful to be back,” she said. “We are just so thankful that we have our house.”
The Krebs were among thousands of residents forced from their homes after a wildfire started in the hills east of Oakmont late Friday night, five days after the fast-moving Tubbs fire caused massive destruction in northern Santa Rosa. That evacuation was for residents in neighborhoods along Highway 12, between Calistoga and Adobe Canyon roads.
Oakmont residents and many residents south of Highway 12 up to Calistoga Road had been allowed to return home Tuesday afternoon.
Matt Krebs was relieved the threat of fire was ending.
“To look over and not see smoke, it feels safe finally,” he said.
Three houses down from the Krebs, Wendy Waterman arrived about 3:15 p.m. She had been on her way to Petaluma, where she and her husband and two children were staying with in-laws.
After pulling up to her home, Waterman hugged one of her neighbors.
She had mixed feelings about returning.
“Fortunately this neighborhood gets a happy response,” she said. “I feel a bit of nausea and chills that the people that don’t have a home to come back to don’t get to experience this.”
Throughout the morning and early afternoon Wednesday, many residents who waited to be let back into their neighborhoods expressed similar feelings.
But hours before the evacuation was lifted, evacuated residents were frustrated, wondering when they’d be allowed to return to homes in Skyhawk, Piedmont Heights, St. Francis and Rincon Valley east of Calistoga Road.
All along Calistoga Road, local residents had waited in their cars, eager to enter their neighborhoods. They chatted with National Guard soldiers who stood next to several military Humvees.
At a Cal Fire information kiosk in front of the Safeway on Calistoga Road and Highway 12 at the St. Francis Shopping Center, a Cal Fire spokesman reassured them the evacuation order would be lifted Wednesday afternoon.
Bill Berthiaume, 65, said he fled his Skyhawk home with his 20-year-old son and two dogs early Saturday morning.
They’ve been living in his motor home at “the Safeway campground” since then and were eager to get home.
“I’m one of the lucky ones that just got temporarily displaced,” said Berthiaume, who works as an engineer for Medtronic. “It’s a minor inconvenience compared to what other people have had to endure.”
Standing near the Cal Fire kiosk, Doug Lightfoot, 82, and his son, John Lightfoot, expressed frustration that the evacuation had lasted so long, when there was no apparent danger to neighborhoods like Piedmont Heights, where they live.
The two complained to the Cal Fire spokesman about inaccurate information from the state fire agency. They pointed to an alert issued at 4:52 a.m. Saturday stating, “Expires: 10/14/17, 7:52 a.m.”
That alert, which had a link to srcity.org/emergency, gave the impression that the evacuation order would be in place for three hours.
“How is that acceptable?” John Lightfoot asked.
He and his parents had been staying at the Flamingo Hotel, which he said had dropped its regular rates $100 a night for evacuees.
“As much as we love the Flamingo, we would like to leave them soon and go home,” he said.
Shortly after 3 p.m., with the neighborhoods now open, the National Guard soldiers packed their chairs and equipment, removed the street barricades and left the Rincon Valley.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @renofish.