SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. - Victimized again.
Just as new homes are going up in the Sonoma County fire zone, burglars have struck at the construction sites, stripping builders of some expensive tools.
Sometime Wednesday night or Thursday morning, three large storage containers and a trailer were broken into and looted in the Larkfield area.
"They took some bolt cutters and cut through the chain," said Brian Gallagher, project manager for Silvermark Construction, based in Fairfield. "It hits you right in the gut."
Silvermark has six homes under construction and 43 more planned.
It's impractical to haul supplies in and out each day, so they lock everything up and barricade it with heavy equipment.
But despite those precautions, more than $20,000 worth of tools were stolen, including ladders, compressors, drills, generators, saws and nail guns.
Gallager said he scrambled Thursday morning to buy replacements and hasn't informed his clients of the setback.
"It's already been a tragedy for the homeowners and people of Santa Rosa, so I haven't told them about the possible slowdown, " said Gallager, "and we're going to keep building, keep driving forward, and we're not going to let this deter us."
Investigators note, the thieves hot-wired a 25,000-pound grader to move it away from one container, where it was parked to block the door.
"We're going to work on getting some cameras put up here, try and get some surveillance in the area," said Sonoma County Sheriff's Dept. Sgt. Spencer Crum.
"Even one or two days extra is a day too long for people to get back in their homes, so we'll do whatever we can to catch these people and prevent them from doing it again."
On a nearby street, the burglars got through a chain-link perimeter fence to steal $8,000 worth of tools and equipment from another locker at a home nearing completion.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg in the rebuild," reacted neighbor Brad Sherwood, who was visiting his burned home site with his two children Thursday afternoon.
Sherwood said he wasn't surprised by the construction thefts because people have been stealing off the burned lots for months, snatching anything left standing, including his own mailbox.
"They ripped it right off the base," he pointed out.
His Larkfield Estates area has signs posted, alerting visitors to the neighborhood watch program and surveillance cameras in use.
After escaping the fire, losing a home, and dealing with insurance to get to the rebuild stage, he says thievery adds insult to injury.
"To be victimized again by the lowest scum of the earth is horrible," said Sherwood, "and there's got to be some creative way of nipping this in the bud now. It's just the beginning of the rebuild and it's just disgusting to see this happen."
Solutions might include hiring security guards, putting volunteers on patrol, and adding cameras.
"We just want to let those folks know, if you're watching us, we're going to be watching you," said Sherwood, who is a block captain for the rebuild effort in his neighborhood.
Gallagher says he hopes payback will come for those who exploited misfortune for their own gain: "Karma, that's all I can think of right now because what goes around comes around eventually."
Residents are asked to be extra diligent and watch for suspicious people in construction areas at night. Residents should report suspicious activity by calling (707) 565-2121.