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Residents in California wildfire zone prep for possible new disaster

Posted at 8:23 PM, Nov 16, 2017

Steve Hedrick and his family are still wrapping their heads around the devastation that surrounds their home. Hedrick's home is one of the 10 the neighborhood of 28 households that survived the Northern California wildfires that ripped through in October.

It has barely been more than a month and already the Hedricks and others in certain parts of Santa Rosa are facing a possible new threat: rains. It's not just the possibility of flash flooding but sinkholes and mudslides, as well.

“The concern about the hill moving and things flowing off the hill is everybody’s concern right now, it really is,” Hedrick said. “It’s the last thing we need.”

For the last several days, Santa Rosa officials have been going door to door, hanging notices on the few homes that remain standing in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, warning them just to be prepared for a possible evacuation.

Santa Rosa’s assistant fire marshal Paul Lowenthal says they’re treating it as an emergency—at least until this week's rain subsides and they have a better handle on ground conditions.

“We are just trying to get ahead of it, trying to make sure the community understands what’s happening [and] that they’re informed, that we are asking them to remain vigilant.”

One of the main concerns is destroyed or melted plastic underground drainage piping; with no pipe in place during heavy rains, the threat becomes sinkholes. That, plus the fact that in some parts almost all the vegetation burned away during the fires, leaving the hillscape much more susceptible to a landslide.

“If we are going to get a large volume of rain in Santa Rosa right now, there hasn’t been a lot of time for grasses to really start setting in.”

Steve Hedrick, who moved into their home exactly nine years ago, hope that the threat stays at bay.

“I mean it was bad enough we almost lost our house, and our neighbors did,” Hedrick says. “[Any new disaster] would probably be the final nail in the coffin up here in the neighborhood.”