Advice on How Woolsey Fire Victims Can Rebuild From Those Affected by Thomas Fire

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Homeowners affected by the Woolsey Fire are still literally picking up the pieces, and they face a long road ahead.

No one understands their journey better than victims of the Thomas Fire. It's been one year since fire destroyed more than 500 homes in Ventura.

"If you've got your health, you've got your family, that's the main thing!" said Ed Fuller, a Thomas fire victim.

Ed and Sandy Fuller's home was decimated in the Thomas Fire last December.

In a few weeks they will host family for Christmas, but their one-year from ashes to newly re-built home is one of a few exceptions, and they know it.

"For most people it's just out of their experience and they just need to grasp that," he said.

It's not just citizens but cities that need to wrap their heads around addressing the rebuild from a wildfire disaster.

"We have about 125 people that are under construction to rebuild their homes," said Jeff Lambert, Ventura's planning director. "We have another 140 are in what's CALLED 'plan check,' so they are close to starting construction.

Lambert's numbers represent about half of the 524 homes destroyed in Ventura by the Thomas Fire.

Ventura's rebuild is now a blueprint for cities affected by the Woolsey Fire.

"We've been reaching out to Thousand Oaks and Malibu and Agoura Hills," Lambert said.

Lambert said he advises cities to do four things:

  • Communicate with homeowners about services.
  • Make sure the rules for rebuilding are clear and don't change.
  • Partner with design professionals to teach homeowners how to hire architects and contractors.
  • And bolster your city staff.

"We added a million dollars in contract service staff to make sure that we could get people in the process and out in a timely manner," Lambert said.

Lambert says for homeowners, the biggest challenge is understanding their insurance policy, meaning: will your policy cover the cost of reconstruction, including things like materials, labor and code changes?

"Don't be quick to take that check and walk away. Make sure you know what it's going to cost to rebuild your house before you settle with your insurance company," Lambert said.

The state will conduct a hazardous materials inspection of your property for free and help with debris removal but the rest of the costs are on you.

"Rebuilding for everybody is not the right decision," Fuller said.

The Fullers were lucky. They had just renovated their home so they had fresh blueprints. Their advice: hire an architect first.

"They really know all the upgrades, they know all the new codes, they know what's going to be required in order to even get your plans established," Sandy said.

Once you have your plans, hire a general contractor and communicate with them from permits to purchasing materials.

"You have to stay engaged and you have to in your mind kind of know what you what because you're going to be asked a lot of times every day," she said.

The Fullers say you can't have enough patience. But in the end you get a better upgraded home.

For them, it's just in time for Christmas.

"It's just very exciting. I'm even making Christmas stockings cause they burnt up too," Sandy said.

Sandy said she has found one permanent thing to do every day in order to keep going emotionally through the rebuilding journey. She said to find something you can finish and not have to worry about again.

Lambert says about half a dozen families are back in their new homes right now and he expects nearly half of the homes lost will be rebuilt by the end of 2019.

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