By Antonia Bradford
There is a certain personality that is drawn to living in the mountains. People who have a great love and respect for nature. Independent, yet value community and connection. It’s what makes the San Lorenzo Valley such an amazing community to live. The people of the Wildwood Woodland neighborhood, just north of Boulder Creek, are no different.
Shannon Phleger and her husband Jason moved into their home at the top of the ridge five years ago with their two small children Emmett, 8, and Issac, 9. As traveling nurses they had lived just about everywhere, and when it came time to purchase a home, they were drawn to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
“We always wanted to live in the mountains and be near the redwoods,” Phleger said. The home was everything they had ever wanted. It was perfect for them and they were perfect for the home. The seller chose them even though other interested buyers offered more money. “Every single day I was in awe of my home and the mountain. I would sip my tea and wonder how I was even so lucky to be here. The spider webs with dew, the owls above. I loved my home so much.”
On Thursday August 20, 2020 the Phleger family home was destroyed by the CZU fire as it raged over the mountain ridge, taking their paradise viciously away from them. Now they are fighting to reclaim that paradise and need their neighbors’ help.
The Wildwood Woodland neighborhood is a small community of just ten homes, with only one home surviving the fire. There are community members who’ve lived there more than forty years, with some in their nineties. Nestled along a private road, this enclave established a nonprofit to fund maintenance of the roads and culverts — a task they take very seriously to ensure emergency access and fire prevention.
The fire damage is profound. Five drainage culverts were destroyed. As debris removal has begun to take place, their previously well-maintained road is collapsing under the weight of service vehicles. The debris removal companies have been filling up the damage with loose rocks so that they can maintain access. But this is clearly not a permanent solution.
“As a community we have all agreed that those who are rebuilding will use the same contractor to limit the amount of construction trucks that come up here. We are doing everything we can to prevent more damage, but by the time construction is done, our entire road is going to have to be repaired. Look at how bad it already is!” Phleger said.
Most fire victims are underinsured. The damage to basic infrastructure — roads, septic systems, plumbing, power — drains homeowners’ budgets before they even break ground on their rebuilds.
“We talked as a neighborhood that maybe we could just divide up the cost per household, but some of my neighbors told us they didn’t even know if they are going to have enough money to rebuild,” Phleger says.
Thus far the Wildwood Woodland neighborhood has incurred expenses of $25,000, a sum that surpasses the association’s savings and does not complete the repair work. To repair the road post-construction will cost $27,000. Their communal fund is dry.
What can the SLV community do to help? Right now, donations are being accepted at gofundme.com/f/help-save-our-road. Community members who are unable to donate can share the link. Additionally, locals can donate their skills if they are able.
Losing your home and your surrounding neighborhood is a devastating event. As victims work their way through insurance and county bureaucracy, the support of the community is crucial.
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. Antonia is committed to making contributions to the San Lorenzo Valley community wherever and however she can.
Featured photo: Shannon Phleger on the Wildwood Woodland Road. Photos by Antonia Bradford.