The first thing you notice after you exit U.S. Highway 101 North and enter Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood is the incessant whirring of a jackhammer — its sound omnipresent on every street corner.
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A year after deadly fires ripped through the neighborhood, scorching everything in its path, there’s cement mixers instead of charred grass, rose bushes instead of burned hedges and a sense of optimism instead of doom. What once resembled a movie set from “Apocalypse Now” looks more like — to quote a resident — “an obstacle course.”
On a sunny September afternoon, the only remnants of the tragedy that befell this quaint little neighborhood on the night of Oct. 8, 2017, are blackened mailboxes and tree stumps and of course, the residents themselves — some never left, some are slowly starting to move back, and some still don’t know where they’ll end up. Debris and broken garden ornaments dot the street along with construction crews, a maze of trucks and colorful porta-potties.
“We’ve been in this neighborhood about 15 years and we’re actually quite surprised that there’s this much building going on,” said Hugo Aguirre. “We never would have imagined a year later there’s something like 250 houses being built.”
“That was the last we heard, it may be more,” his wife Patty Aguirre adds. “Every day that we drive around the neighborhood we see new foundation being poured. A lot of neighbors are coming back and rebuilding.”
But there are also those who will not be coming back.
It's been a year since NBC Bay Area talked to the Aguirres — their house was one of the lucky ones that survived the deadly inferno, but most of their friends and neighbors lost their homes.
The Aguirres said the family that lived across the street from them will not be moving back.
Then & Now: The rose bushes next to Hugo and Patty Aguirres' house survived the Tubb's Fire
“I think some people were just so overwhelmed by this whole thing, like the people down the street here, they don’t want to be in this neighborhood again. It brings back memories of what happened,” Hugo Aguirre said.
Another close friend of the couple’s almost moved to Arizona, but then decided to stay.
“We’re just looking forward to having all our neighbors and all the houses built, and hopefully they’ll plant some more trees,” they said.
Some Coffey Park residents said that for a few months after the fires, nothing really happened. Then all of a sudden construction took off.
Across the street from the Aguirres, Bob Daugherty, who is rebuilding after losing his two-story house in the fire, was waiting for the building inspector to come survey his property before he could start laying down the foundation.
“I’m almost 80 years old, and I have to do this at this stage of my life,” he said. “I had to think about it for six months before I made up my mind.”
Daugherty said the city has been very cooperative, but under the new building codes he had to put in a sprinkler system and heavier insulation.
“We got out of here with the clothes we were wearing and our dog. Couldn’t find our cat — she perished in the fire. We are starting all over — a little late in life to have to do it, but we don’t have a choice.”
He added: “We are not alone, there’s a lot of people in the same boat we are in. It’s a long hard process, but it’s exciting.”
The Aguirres’ house would have burned down had it not been for the shifting winds, and some very brave firefighters.
“The winds went across the street — so only like three-quarters of this house completely burned,” Hugo Aguirre said. “It was hit and miss, which house was going to burn and which wasn’t."
A few houses over to their right, it’s the first day of construction for the Sculley family, whose house on Crimson Row was destroyed in the wildfires.
“The whole family is so excited and so happy we’ve finally reached this point,” said Sue Nelson, whose sister, Lyann Scalley had to evacuate in the middle of the night.
“We’ve been coming by every day to take pictures of the progress,” she said, her voice heavy with emotion.
The Scalleys have put up a little sign with the words “Coming Back Soon.”
Everywhere you look there are signs of rebuilding and resilience. One that particularly stands out right next to the park reads: “From the Ashes We Will Rise.”
Even with all the construction and activity around them, the Aguirres say it gets lonely without their neighbors. “It’s kind of strange, it’s more strange during the day not to see anybody,” Hugo Aguirre said. His wife added they felt safe because of all the patrol cars.
So what it’s like to wake up every day to the sound of jackhammers and construction?
“You’re woken up at 7 o’clock every morning. That’s the alarm! Hammering!” Patty Aguirre said laughing.
“At first it drove us crazy and now were just used to it. I’m used to going to work through a maze of trucks over there,” Hugo Aguirre said. “Fortunately, PG&E is almost done in this neighborhood. When they were on this street it was chaos.”
The fire has brought the Coffey Park community closer together — neighbors hold barbecues and potlucks, and last Christmas someone brought a tree and had a party all night.
“We met a lot of neighbors that we didn't even know,” Patty Aguirre said.
As for visitors, the Aguirres say they see people driving by their neighborhood all the time. “People who are just intrigued to see what’s going on here — they had to start putting up fencing,” Patty Aguirre said with a smile.
Drone Footage: Coffey Park Before & After
A flurry of activity greets you as you drive around Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood — a stark contrast from October 2017. A year after the most destructive wildfire in California history burned down parts of Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties, the neighborhood continues to rebuild.
This drone video show the aftermath of the deadly wildfires and what some of the streets — made famous in iconic aerial photos and video — look like now.
'Found Pets'- Cats (And Dogs) of Coffey Park
Right next to the Coffey Park playground is a makeshift tent with the words “Found Pets.” Inside it, dozens of photos of cats and dogs who were reunited with their owners. And then, those who are still missing. Some residents have donated toys and scratching posts. Others are offering rewards for any information on their pets.