North Bay wildfire damage to take years to rebuild, contractors limited

With the deadline for a free federal and state cleanup of burned lots in Sonoma County coming on Monday, many who've signed a permission ship for it are already seeing results. But, compared to the clean-up, that will be done by spring, rebuilding could take many years. 

In fact, it's hard to see how rebuilding all of this is going to be anything but very slow.
On Thursday, Army Corps of Engineers and EPA contractors moved into a higher gear, cleaning lots of debris. It's such a big job that we noticed many lots are being covered with plastic tarps and straw barriers to keep toxic ashes from washing out into drains during months of winter storms.

Rebuilding is another matter. "It's going to be three to five years for most of the rebuild," said Keith Woods of the North Coast Builders Exchange, who predicts that full recovery will take perhaps a decade. 

"Every contractor I know in the area was busy before these devastating fires hit us and this is gonna put a real strain on the capacity of local contractors up here." 

Making matters more complicated, there's a serious shortage of labor to work for those contractors. "We do not have anywhere near the capacity of the number of contractors to even come close to rebuilding the homes that we've lost in this tragedy," said Woods.

Licensed contractors from other parts of the state can work here, so to can contractors from neighboring states that have reciprocal agreements. But, illegal contractors as well as down and out con artists are already here.

"The next disaster for them is if they try to do business with an unlicensed contractor, whether it's somebody from around this area or, even worse, from outside of the state and they're coming in droves here. They are disaster followers," said Woods.

Another major problem: many of the contractors who live up here lost their tools in the fire. So, the North Coast Builders Exchange is setting up a tool replacement program so they can get back to work. When they do get back to work, many insured homeowners will learn that they've failed to add up the actual rebuilding cost of their house. 

Many homeowners who have not increased the insurance coverage of rebuilding their homes may find their coverage is totally inadequate to rebuild it.  Today, California rebuilding costs are $250 a square foot for the average house, $400 to $500 for luxury homes.