Pepperwood Preserve readying for $5 million wildfire rebuild project
Pepperwood Preserve is poised to join the rebuilding wave that has engulfed much of the North Bay since the voracious wildfires of 2017 destroyed nearly 8,500 homes and other structures in the region.
The education and research organization on a 3,200-acre tract in the Mayacamas Mountains northeast of Santa Rosa has architectural plans and county permits in hand, with a local contractor set to build.
“We are shovel ready,” said Lisa Micheli, president of the nonprofit foundation that operates the facility off Porter Creek Road.
But there’s a catch. Like many others who lost homes and businesses in the firestorm 19 months ago, Pepperwood found itself underinsured — by a whopping $1.25 million.
Pepperwood’s insurance is expected to provide about $3.75 million, enough to rebuild the two wood-frame homes and a barn incinerated by the Tubbs fire on its wind-driven rush down the Mark West corridor from Calistoga to Coffey Park, the Santa Rosa subdivision obliterated by the blaze.
But re-creating those structures, dating back to the 1950s, was never an option for an organization committed to conservation science and stewardship of the wildlands in its care since 2005.
“We felt like we needed to be an example,” Micheli said. “To do it greener, cleaner, better and more fire-resilient.”
So Pepperwood turned to Mithun, a San Francisco architectural firm known for sustainable designs that meld buildings and their occupants with the environment. “They were the only ones who understood all of our structures are about accessing the preserve,” Micheli said.
The property includes the headwaters of three creeks that flow into the Russian River and is home to 750 varieties of native plants and 150 wildlife species, including black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and blacktail deer.
Hilltops in the preserve afford views of massive Mount St. Helena to the east, with the Santa Rosa Plain stretching for miles to the west.
For a builder, the foundation hired Earthtone Construction of Sebastopol, a 22-year-old firm also committed to sustainability.
“We’re thrilled because our ideas are aligned,” said Andy Bannister, chief executive and founder, referring to his firm’s pairing with Mithun.
The result: Plans for two new residences with concrete-paneled exteriors, mineral wool insulation, clay plaster interior walls and steel roofs laid atop fire-resistant sheeting. The materials are not fireproof, because almost nothing is, Bannister said, but they are “ignition-proof,” meaning they will not catch fire.
The new barn will be all steel, replacing the wood-paneled barn that was reduced to twisted steel framing in the fire’s wake. Pepperwood’s two old homes burned to the ground.
“We want to be a demonstration site for fire resilience,” Micheli said.
But the devotion to clean and green cost an extra $1.25 million, bringing Pepperwood rebuild cost to about $5 million. To cover the uninsured amount, Pepperwood has launched a fundraising effort called “Rising from the Ashes.”
Pepperwood and Bannister are anxious to get started, but Micheli said she wants to have half of the campaign goal — about $625,000 — in hand before the work starts.
“People want to invest in the project,” she said, and the foundation also wants people “who really believe in our mission” to be on hand for the groundbreaking.
Margie Shurgot, who started in November as Pepperwood’s director of advancement, said she hopes about 20 major donations, along with small contributions from the community, can fulfill the campaign goal.