As Sonoma County fire zones reopen, devastation from Kincade Fire becomes evident

Sonoma County re-opened some Kincade Fire burn areas, provided residents show identification and are issued an access pass. 

In Geyserville Friday afternoon, sheriff's deputies cleared residents to return, and health department workers handed them trash bags with some essentials inside. 

"Booties to go over your shoes, a mask, goggles, gloves," said Mike Thompson, Assistant General Manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, 

Downed trees have been cleared from roads, but many rural properties have septic and propane tanks that can be dangerous, along with general household hazardous waste.

"We're encouraging people to wear personal protective gear, have sturdy shoes, wear gloves and masks and really take precautions," said Thompson. "We don't want anyone getting hurt re-entering their property."

Most residents already know the fate of their homes. 

"Mine is the only home that survived in the immediate area," said Tess Lusher, who pulled in to the help-center with a few questions. 

Lusher and her husband Chris live east of Geyserville, high atop Pine Flat Road. 

A half dozen neighbors, lower on the ridge, burned to the ground, but not the Lusher's home. 

"It has a roof made of metal, walls made of concrete, and a fire proof basement made of concrete as well," said tenant Josh Wong, explaining how the three story structure escaped unscathed. 

The Lushers began building their home 18 years ago, with many fire-resilient features. 

A perimeter sprinkler system was able to spray water on both house and forest as the Kincade Fire approached.  

The eaves under the roof are closed so fire could not creep underneath.

Before fleeing, the Lushers coated windows with fire-resistant foam, to keep the glass from overheating. 

They also boarded the windows with plywood on the inside, to protect against high winds.  

"That's because a lot of the fires that happen are because of broken windows, and burning embers fly into the house," said Wong.   

In addition to the fire-resistant features, vegetation clearing was a year-round priority. 

"It's just always having that mentality that this is preventing a fire that can come at any moment," said Wong. 

The foresight paid off. The yard was scorched and a vehicle burned, but the house survived.  

"It's wonderful to have the home, but devastating to lose our neighbors, said Tess Lusher.

"We are remote, we were a community, and if this is something that could have been prevented, I think it's criminal."

Ironically, even with all their fire-proofing, the Lushers problems aren't finished. 

"Insurance companies are busy dropping people, and we are going to be dropped at the end of the year."  

On Monday, Sonoma County will open a Local Assistance Center.

Government agencies and non-profits will be available to answer questions, offer resources and take applications for various forms of aid.  

The LAC will have recovery-related information, dealing with debris removal, document replacement, unemployment benefits, contractors, and permits. 

The LAC will be located at the Healdsburg Community Center, 1557 Healdsburg Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., through Wednesday, November 6.      

At last count, Cal Fire said 174 homes were destroyed in the Kincade Fire.