Barn Raising in the Mountains
As the Two Year Anniversary of the CZU Fire Nears, Community Launches a Citizen-led Approach
By Antonia Bradford
The two year anniversary of the CZU Fire is rapidly approaching. As the smoke cleared and life returned to normal for the vast majority of the mountain, fire families who lost everything quickly realized the reality of our situations: we were underinsured. Some families decided right away to not rebuild for a variety of reasons. Others decided to move off the mountain and hold off on making any decision. And some decided to walk into one of the biggest fights of their lives and begin the process of rebuilding.
It is no secret that this has been a heart-wrenching and stressful process. Very few fire families have been able to break ground due to extreme delays by the county and its planning department. Besides the emotional anguish of living in the perpetual state of trauma, there is a new consequence of this delay: construction costs have exploded.
I will use my own family’s experience as an example. Back in 2021 we received our preliminary bid to replace our home. The price quoted was $807K. We took a deep breath and decided with our insurance money plus the SBA disaster loan we were taking out we could make it work. We would just tighten our belts and get through it together as a family. Then, the county shut down all progress waiting for completion of their Atkins debris flow report because they wanted that information in our plans. By the time that report came out over nine month later our soils engineer and all the other engineers were completely backlogged. We finally were able to apply for our permits over a year after that. But when we received our final bid it had exploded to a whopping $1,085,000. $807K was a stretch, over a million was impossible.
My husband and I had to figure out how to make this work. At this point we had spent almost $70k of our insurance money just on the pre-construction costs. We decided to only contract through sheetrock with our general contractor and we would be responsible for all finishes. This meant flooring, painting, and cabinet installation. All of it. We would be relying on the time and talents of our friends and family to help us.
Finishes in our area are currently between 40-50% of your rebuild costs. It truly is the best place to get savings on your build.
Over the last few weeks, I have seen fire families who are trying to rebuild get blindsided by the exact same thing. Bids have increased by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Having already spent tens of thousands of dollars on their rebuilding effort many are scrambling. Panicked. How will they pay for this? This is just another way that those of us who lost everything are being kicked in the teeth.
Call to Action
After the fire the community expressed over and over that they wanted to help, but didn’t know how. And quite honestly back then there wasn’t much that could be done except emotional support. But now? This is a prime opportunity for the community to offer that support they spoke of after the fire.
I am compiling a database of volunteers. What I am envisioning is fire families signing up and getting a designated weekend where the community swarms their rebuild and gets the finish work done. Two families a month to start and building from there. This could literally be the difference between people going home or not. It is not hyperbolic to say that. This is our reality.
This is the mountain. Our community is powerful and bonded. There are many people up here in the trades that could help with these projects. And even if you aren’t in the trades, everyone knows how to paint. Volunteers could help assist those who are in the trades while they install tubs, showers, and sinks. Provide food or babysitting for other helpers. As the saying goes, many hands make light work. And we need all those hands on deck.
There is a small team of people working on this project – amplifying the volunteer opportunity and garnering more support. This includes working with local businesses and other organizations. Stay tuned for more details.
I believe our community wants to help fire families. I believe in our capabilities as mountain people to lift each other up. Let’s do this!
Please take a minute to fill out this survey to sign up for these volunteer opportunities. If you sign up please know that we really need you to follow through with that support.
Fire Families Sign Up
Additionally, if you are a fire family that needs help in this capacity, please fill out this form so we can contact you. We are still working out the specifics on how this is all going to flow but wanted to gather as much information as possible. Please remember you are never alone.
Antonia Bradford lives in Boulder Creek with her husband and five children. She is a writer, artist, and business owner. She is an advocate for fire families in the area having lost her own home in Boulder Creek as well. She is committed to making contributions to the San Lorenzo Valley community wherever and however she can.
Photos by Antonia Bradford