Volunteers plant hundreds of new trees in fire-ravaged Fountaingrove neighborhood

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

The quieted streets of Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood are still lined with charred trees, standing and toppled, that await removal. They were torched in the Tubbs fire that raged through here six months ago, burning more than 1,400 houses.

A few new homes are beginning to rise from the ashes. But on Saturday — the start of Earth Day weekend — to signal the revival of this fire-blackened neighborhood, more than 100 volunteers gathered to plant native oak trees and other species.

“It’s been a very challenging and rewarding process to get here,” said Mike Bertoli, one of the few surrounding Fountaingrove residents whose home survived the fires.

The event brought together national, state and local organizations to plant nearly 350 trees and shrubs along Rincon Ridge Road and Fountain Grove Parkway.

Comcast and the Arbor Day Foundation provided trees and planting materials. The California Urban Forests Council took care of planning and logistics, while members of the Fountaingrove II neighborhood association laid the groundwork for the Earth Day effort.

A new irrigation system was installed down Rincon Ridge Road last week to support the native landscaping planted by volunteers.

Bertoli set up wire cages around small elderberry bushes in Rincon Ridge Park to keep deer and other wildlife from eating the shrubs.

“There’s not much food for them around here now,” he said looking around at dozens of now-vacant lots. “They really like this green new growth.”

Around 40 Comcast volunteers came from as far as the Central Valley to participate in the tree planting as part the company’s Comcast Cares Day, a volunteer event that brought out 100,000 people to more than 1,000 projects across the nation, a spokeswoman said.

Micki Haley, a Comcast employee from Tracy, said the fire-ravaged neighborhood was “a shock to see,” but she wanted to do something to help in the rebuilding effort.

Most of the volunteers were people from the surrounding Fountaingrove neighborhood. And many had lost their homes in the Tubbs fire.

“For me this is purely selfish,” said Doug Wulbrecht, his face covered with a mixture of sunscreen, sweat and dirt as he worked a shovel on the roadside. “I can see my tree. It’s right there.”

His house was destroyed and he plans to rebuild, but he has stayed active since the disaster with the dues-supported neighborhood open space association, which takes care of much of the wildland that separates and surrounds the hilly subdivision.

After the disaster, the open space group has taken on much of the work to clean up the 225 acres of scorched ground. Bruce McConnell, a board member with the association, said Saturday’s event translated to more than $50,000 worth of new trees and shrubs for the neighborhood.

About 10:30 a.m., Wulbrecht and Loreen Whirley, a neighbor who also lost her house, tucked two of those plants — a pair of western redbuds — into their new home.

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

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