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Coffey Park Chronicles

Read more stories about Coffey Park’s recovery here

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Dan Bradford was among the last people to move into Coffey Park before an October firestorm ravaged the tract neighborhood in northwest Santa Rosa.

On Friday he became the first person to move back into a house rebuilt atop the original foundation of his Kerry Lane home.

The housewarming was overwhelming, he said.

Bradford, who moved in a year before the October wildfires, on Friday found himself the center of attention as a crowd of neighbors, government staff members, journalists and elected leaders gathered around him. The group came together to mark the completion of the first rebuilt home in the burned neighborhoods of Sonoma County.

“Today we’re celebrating new beginnings, as we enter the first of what will be many, many rebuilt homes,” Mayor Chris Coursey said before a row of television cameras.

Bradford, 61, a respiratory therapist at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, thanked neighbors, co-workers and city officials for helping him put his life back together. But his most effusive praise was given to the workers and owners of Lake County Contractors, his Lakeport-based builder.

“You guys created magic by doing this,” he said, standing on the sidewalk in front of his new home, “and I’m hoping that all the other contractors around here continue to do the same thing.”

Nearly eight months have passed since the North Bay suffered the most destructive wildfires in state history. The October fires claimed 40 lives and burned 6,200 homes in a four- county region. Residential insurance claims have totaled $8.4 billion.

When workers began reconstructing Bradford’s home in late December, excavators and dump trucks were still clearing away ash and fire debris throughout Coffey Park. But on Friday at least two dozen rebuilt houses were rising within eyesight of his place.

By Monday, workers had started construction on 125 homes in the neighborhood — roughly a tenth of the nearly 1,260 homes that burned there, according to the city.

Coursey noted that being first in the rebuild process meant encountering “unforeseen bumps in the road.” He thanked Bradford and Lake County Contractors partner Mark Mitchell with prodding the city to find solutions to such problems.

“You made our response to this disaster better by being that trailblazer,” the mayor told Bradford. “And by doing that you helped your neighbors. You helped a lot of people you don’t even know follow your trail, so thank you for that.”

Also on hand to congratulate Bradford Friday were Rep. Mike Thompson and Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin. Both suggested the day was a celebration not only for one homeowner but also for an entire community.

“This is just the first step in saying that we’re back,” said Thompson, D-St. Helena. “We’re back and you’re going to see improvements like this every day from now on.”

At 2:40 a.m. Oct. 9, as flames were closing in on a neighbor’s property, Bradford escaped his home with his two hunting dogs, an English setter named Blaze and an English pointer named Abby. When he returned later that morning, he couldn’t believe the devastation that confronted him.

“I had a big lump in my throat,” he recalled. “Everything’s gone.”

For his new home, he kept the same foundation and exterior dimensions, but his builder helped him redesign the home to a more modern look. It includes an open floor plan for his living room, dining area and kitchen.

He acknowledged that moving away from the county now would be a bit harder for him.

“I’ve made some really strong friendships out of this,” he said of the last eight months.

Lake County Contractor’s Mitchell said he and partners Aaron Wooden and Rob Williams have completed or have under construction nearly three dozen homes on sites burned from Lake County wildfires, including the 2015 Valley fire. The company is on track to start about a dozen homes this year in Sonoma County.

Along with guidance on the rebuilding process, Mitchell said he surprised the soft-spoken Bradford with a prediction last year about the attention he would receive by becoming the first homeowner to rebuild in Coffey Park.

He said he advised Bradford, “Be prepared to be a rock star.”

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

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