The stress of losing one’s home only starts with the rubble left behind. Survivors’ resilience is now being tested by the long and arduous task of rebuilding their lives. John McCaull, a resident of Glen Ellen says, “it’s actually been my job mission over the last two weeks to figure this whole thing out.” That’s why a “right of entry” center like this one has been established in each of the counties affected by the October wildfires. “Right of entry,” or ROE, is a form that once completed and signed by the homeowner allows contractors onto their property to remove all that fire debris, and clean the land of any toxics.
With that form comes a lot of questions and that’s the reason for the centers. “The hardest part was finding it,” says Ruth O’Connor, who lost her home in Larkfield. “Once we found it, went in had a five-minute wait until somebody put us behind a computer the guy was just helpful.” Like Ruth, everyone here is a wildfire victim. But they each have a unique situation.
Eric Pearson of Glen Ellen is the anchor tenant for a ranch that lost 4 homes. “Sure, four houses can get cleaned up pretty easily. They’re 1500 square feet each. But we’ve got 50,000 square feet of barn with old chemicals and toxic chemicals, that needs to be cleaned up too.” Other property owners were hit more than once. John McCaull has multiple properties all over Sonoma county that burned to the ground. He’s got his signed ROE form firmly in hand. “So initially did you have any reservations about signing one of these?” we asked him. He responded “Well, I’m an attorney so I looked it over and not really.”
But many do have reservations and by coming to the roe center questions are answered. “Ruth, did they answer all of your questions? Yes, he did. He was very knowledgeable. It wasn’t his first rodeo,” said Ruth. And those that can’t be answered immediately will be researched by staff and then relayed to the property owner by phone. This center is open 7-days a week, 9-6, but they won’t be here forever; time is ticking.
“This process is going to be coming to an end so we do need them to start making those decisions quickly,” urged Christine Sosko, Director of Environmental Health for Sonoma County. “So if they have questions come down talk to us.”
Ruth left the ROE center with a smile on her face; her future can now begin. “We’ll start rebuilding process and start all over again.”
“So we can’t stress enough the importance of coming down to the ROE center, not only to get that form, get it filled out and turned in, but also to answer any of those questions you may have,” says Shawn Boyd, public information officer for Cal OES. “A lot of the questions that are out there are happening because the information is changing so quickly. well, these folks here are updated continuously so they have that real-time information, those answers that you’re looking for.”