North Bay homeowners turn to 'wattles' to absorb pollutants

More wet weather means more runoff in the North Bay burn zones. 

Some homeowners are turning to wattles, a device more familiar in the building trades, to slow erosion and absorb pollutants. 

"We like to tell people, 'wattle on'," said Doug Allard, owner of the Wattle Guys, headquartered in Petaluma. 

Allard's services are most often needed at construction sites, but this week, he brought his mobile production trailer to his own home off Riebli Road in the Hidden Hills neighborhood. 

The machine has pumped out 30,000 feet of wattle, which is made from rice straw, an shaped into a webbed tube that provides a water barrier. 

Mushroom fungus, or other substances implanted in the wattle, absorb carbons and metals, and other toxins. 

Neighbors have been coming to Allard's home to pick-up wattle, much like a sandbag station during a flood. 

"We've lived here for five years and didn't meet many of our neighbors, but I've met most of them now," said Allard, "and this will make the community even stronger, which is really what it's all about." 

Allard lost his own home, not in the initial firestorm but four days later, when a missed ember flared up. 

"I don't worry about my house, I'm keeping busy," he said, " and I tell my neighbors, if they feel down, a bit depressed, come on up here and drag some wattles for awhile, you'll forget about it!" 

A neighboring property is surrounded by wattle, nestled in a trench and secured by wooden stakes. 

"We just want to make sure everything is secure and we don't have toxins flowing out of here," explained Kevin Castagnetto, who spent the day working with friends and family arranging the wattle and laying a huge tarp over ruins of his son's house. 

"Nobody else is doing this, I can't believe it," said Castagnetto, "but we just wanted to protect our property and make sure everything is okay." 

The destroyed house belonged to Castagnetto's son Nick. 

"It's his first house, he's 35, and he put every dime he had into it, saving for eight years." 

Most of the the wattle has been picked-up by public agencies hurrying to protect storm drains and watershed areas. 

"I just need about a hundred feet, and I've already dug the trench," said another neighbor of Allards', arriving for some wattle. 

Lenore Hansen said she is concerned about pollution to Mark West creek, which runs alongside her property. 

For her family, the past month has separated the household because because they had ten pets and a fenced yard. 

"So it's not easy because there's nowhere for us to live," said Hansen, "We are all broken up, living in various spots. And everyone has a few pets with them. So we're making do." 

Allard plans to move his "wattle-station" to other locations to make access easier for more people. 

It's a way to give back he says, grateful to Santa Rosa Police officers and late-arriving firefighters who saved his antique truck,  plucked a few pieces of art from his burning home, even rescued a ring belonging to his late mother, and brought out wine from his cellar. 

"Three hundred bottles of wine the firefighters took and put on the hill, while the house was burning," said Allard, "because they felt bad they didn't keep the house from catching fire. " 

As rain falls on the ruins, it seems the past month was a flash- and an eternity- all at once. 

"That's what's left of my house," that's all that's left," homeowner Nick Lopedota can be heard sobbing as he shoots cell phone video the first time he sees his home, now tarped over. 

"What I've learned is everything can be taken from us, and it just makes a new beginning," he continues, already hopeful.