Sonoma County: 'There's more love in the air than smoke'

- Smoke rising above Sonoma County's Sugarloaf State Park is from an extensive backfiring operation, and not new wildfire.

Cal Fire started the burn strategy Tuesday afternoon, sending flames shooting up along a 2 mile stretch of ridge north of Highway 12.

The goal is to merge the Nuns Fire and Oakmont Fire, which were burning toward each other anyway.
"This way it happens the way we want it, in a controlled way, and it's hopefully their last act," explained CalFire Division Chief Kurt McCray, directing the backfiring efforts.

Retardant drops on the area were also part of the backfiring, creating containment lines in areas too steep to use bulldozers.

Seeing smoke rise again was disconcerting for residents of the nearby Oakmont retirement community, who received the all-clear to return home Tuesday.

"There's more love in the air than smoke, " evacuee Tobi O'Neill told KTVU, as she and her husband checked on their residence, and found it untouched.

The couple spent eight nights in emergency shelter, and described it as a humbling experience.

"To see how people gave up their time to help," exclaimed O'Neill, "and some worked five, six, seven days in a row volunteering. It's the giving."

In contrast, homeowners who lost everything face an uncertain future, and a steep learning curve.
"We're here to go to bat for consumers and help them," California Insurance Commisioner Dave Jones told KTVU, outside a local assistance center in Glen Ellen.

"We're not getting complaints from consumers telling us they're having problems with claims filing," Jones noted, but it's still the early days and those disputes will occur."

Jones says he has instructed insurance companies to cut red tape, advance money for personal losses, and be flexible about documentation since so many victims left in a rush.

"Thirteen minutes, thirteen minutes is what we had," Larkfield resident Brad Sherwood told KTVU, amid the ruins of his home.

Sherwood and his neighbors rousted each other as the Tubbs Fire approached, with almost no time to save themselves, much less any possessions or records.

"I'm just glad I was home because my wife never got an alert on her phone. She never got any warning. So I'm lucky I was home, lucky and blessed."

In traveling around the fire zones, Jones says he realizes victims are stressed, but advises them to slow down and not make any hasty decisions, or sign any contracts.

He believes it's best to deal directly with an insurance company, at least at first, rather than hire a public adjuster as an advocate.

"That's because anyone you hire is going to take a piece of your settlement, and you're going to end up with less," he cautioned.

Also, Jones wants homeowners to know they can't be dropped because of a catastrophic loss.

"You can't be cancelled in the middle of this, and if you suffered a total loss, you also have a right to renewal," he declared, "and the insurers do have the reserves, this isn't going to bust any insurance company, they have the financial capacity to cover these costs."

Jones notes one other misconception: that insurance won't pay if a resident sifts around a ruined property before an adjuster sees it.

"It's best not to touch a thing until it's documented," he notes, " but fishing out a wedding band isn't going to nullify your coverage."

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