building officials, food banks, Buddhist monks

Torri Donley

Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm understands that many constituents who have lost their home in the Glass Fire will not want to rebuild. Table of Contents On tap to help those hit by Glass Fire: building officials, food banks, Buddhist monksOn tap to help those hit by Glass Fire: building […]

Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm understands that many constituents who have lost their home in the Glass Fire will not want to rebuild.

But for those who do, he wants to make it as painless and efficient as possible.


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“We don’t want to be a roadblock,” he said.

On Monday, Schwedhelm, a retired Santa Rosa police officer, was at the newly opened local assistance center at Maria Carrillo High School, where evacuees could go to get answers to a whole bunch of grim questions. Three years ago, the scenarios facing Wine Country residents would have seemed the stuff of nightmares, but now have become an inescapable reality for many. How to get copy of vital records lost to fire? How to file a claim with the insurance company when everything you own is gone? How to clear a property of the heaps of ash that once was your house? How to get food and clothing and shelter in the coming months?

In the high school’s gym were city planners and building officials, county health and human services staffers, behavioral health counselors and Buddhist monks. There were state representatives from the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Insurance and the California Department of Public Health. Providing help were nonprofits like Redwood Empire Food Bank, Catholic Charities and the Disability Services & Legal Center.

The Glass Fire, which was 50% contained Tuesday, has destroyed more than 550 homes, about 300 of which are in Sonoma County.

Dale Zumfelde and Shirley Saraga showed up at the assistance center about an hour after it opened Monday. They lost their home on Los Alamos Road in Santa Rosa and everything in it on Sept. 27, including a 1932 Cadillac parked in the driveway. They have been staying at the Doubletree in Rohnert Park, which is full of evacuees and firefighters.

“And there are a lot of dogs, which is really comforting,” Saraga said.

Saraga was carrying a cardboard wine box full of provisions handed out at the high school. It contained no wine, but it did have toffee and sea salt chocolate bars, plenty of water, sparkling grape juice, and dry goods like crackers. Inside the gym, she picked up information on how to start putting her life back together.

“I got some literature about how not to get scammed,” she said. “Some mental health stuff, some insurance stuff, some DMV forms so we can get the title to our car.”

Saraga said the smoky air had her thinking about relocating even before the home was totaled. But she has not decided what to do.

“My friends are here, and I love Sonoma County,” she said. “What are you going to do?”

Schwedhelm lives in Coffey Park, where more than 1,200 homes were destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs Fire. Of the five homes wiped out on his block, one property owner has moved back in, one is living in a trailer on his lot and three others are under construction.

He has several friends who have moved to Idaho to get away from the fires.

“It’s just fatiguing,” he said. “I have a lot of residents saying I don’t know if I can put up with this much longer. Some friends don’t want to go through the rebuild. They love living in Santa Rosa but do they want to spend three years rebuilding their house? It’s a personal choice.”

The Glass Fire burned 30 homes in Santa Rosa, in the Skyhawk neighborhood and east of Los Alamos Road. Before the 2017 Tubbs Fire, 30 homes lost to a blaze would have seemed like a big deal. No longer.

“Of course it’s a different scale compared to the Tubbs Fire,” he said. “But 30 homes? That’s still devastating.”

The local assistance center at Maria Carrillo High School is located at 6975 Montecito Blvd. in Santa Rosa. The center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Saturday.

J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @sfjkdineen

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