The first homes on burned lots started going up in Larkfield, residents are planning joint rebuilding efforts and a series of community meetings highlighted recovery challenges as Little League teams returned to ballfields. Here’s a recap of key events in the greater Mark West area in March:
Cleanup in its final stages
As of Monday, Sonoma County planning officials had issued nearly 50 rebuilding permits related to the October wildfires in the unincorporated areas. County planning data shows more than half of those permits are in the Mark West Springs corridor, which includes Larkfield-Wikiup. The figure includes homes, garages, bridges and decks destroyed or damaged by the fires in the area, where nearly 740 homes were lost five months ago.
The government-sponsored debris removal program in the area is “virtually done,” said Nancy Allen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Allen said Monday just 12 more properties needed to be cleaned in the Tubbs fire burn zone, including two in Fountaingrove and one in Larkfield.
“Most of these were inaccessible,” Allen said. “A bridge burned or the road was in such bad shape so we couldn’t get in in our trucks ... There were some access issues that had to be addressed before we could get to these remaining properties.”
With the debris cleanup in its final stages, rebuilding is slowly beginning to pick up some steam. On the fire-scarred lowlands of Larkfield-Wikiup, workers this month poured the foundation for the new home of Jim Dickey and his wife, Megan Basinger. Dickey, a local land surveyor, said his firm has surveyed nearly 50 fire-ravaged parcels in Larkfield Estates alone, and a total of more than 330 countywide.
“It’s rewarding, but it’s hectic as well,” Dickey said, who anticipates his Dorchester Drive home being rebuilt by the end of this year.
“I now get a few hundred more emails every day than I’m used to. We’re doing what we can to keep everybody moving forward, helping with the rebuild effort in whatever way we can.”
Southern California builder
A group of residents who lived in two scorched neighborhoods in Larkfield-Wikiup are hoping to hasten their community’s recovery by using the same company to rebuild many of the homes they lost.
Orange County-based Stonefield Cos. has already made arrangements to construct nearly 80 homes in Mark West Estates north of Santa Rosa and is in discussions with Larkfield Estates property owners about a similar group rebuilding effort.
Site regrading and recompacting in Mark West Estates was supposed to start earlier this month but was put “on standby” pending drier weather, a company spokesperson said.
Despite the delay, the company says it’s still on track to begin home construction in May, with the first move-ins anticipated this fall, weather permitting. The company has completed three similar efforts before, having rebuilt numerous homes in Southern California following destructive wildfires there in 2003, 2007 and 2008.
Stonefield executives declined interview requests but said in a statement through a spokesperson they are “honored to be able to assist Sonoma County” by embarking on the company’s fourth group rebuild in the last decade and a half.
Rebuilding ‘by sheer force of will’
Mike Holdner, one of the Mark West Estates owners who helped bring Stonefield into the picture, said he started cold calling home builders about a week after the firestorm ignited, asking if they wanted to lead a group rebuild of his neighborhood. But the project didn’t make sense financially for builders more accustomed to buying land and constructing brand-new subdivisions from the ground up.