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These Santa Rosa residents just rebuilt their homes. Then came the Kincade fire

Sanaz Kiesbye surveys what’s left of her home after the Tubbs fire in 2017. The blaze decimated the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa.
Sanaz Kiesbye surveys what’s left of her home after the Tubbs fire in 2017. The blaze decimated the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa.
(Kiesbye family)

Two months after losing her house to the Tubbs fire, Debbie Serdin nailed a sign to a burnt tree on her family’s property in the neighborhood of Coffey Park.

“WE WILL BE BACK BETTER! STRONGER!”

Two years later, the sign still hung in the front yard. But now it was on a smaller tree outside the Serdin family’s new home, where they remained on Monday to stand guard despite evacuation orders for the Kincade fire.

Coffey Park was nearly destroyed in 2017. Many homes have only just been rebuilt and occupied. But burnt trees serve as constant reminders of what occurred.

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Unlike with the Kincade fire, which grew almost 12,000 acres overnight into Monday and remained at just 5% containment, the Serdin family didn’t receive any warning that the Tubbs fire was encroaching on their neighborhood in 2017. Flames were visible in the distance when Debbie and her daughter, Lacey, packed up their car with their dogs and fled.

Rick Serdin, Debbie’s husband, recounted how he followed behind as fire invaded their street. As the blaze encircled the area, he found a safe zone in the nearby park — one of the only areas that ultimately remained untouched.

The family returned the next day to find their home still burning.

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serdin home in coffey park
Alongside dozens of others, the Serdins in January finished rebuilding their home, which had been destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs fire. Debbie Serdin hung a sign that had been posted outside her previous home as the Kincade fire posed a new threat.
(Colleen Shalby / Los Angeles Times)

Elsa Ghirmasion’s home of five years was one of the few in Coffey Park to go unscathed during the Tubbs fire. But the amount of ash that piled up in her backyard took two months to clean — a constant reminder of how close it came to destruction.

On Saturday, as the Kincade fire raged, Ghirmasion and her son fled to her sister’s house amid the smoke while her husband stayed behind to guard their home.

The family has been trying to pack sentimental items, in case they need to leave for good as another round of Diablo winds are expected to blow into Northern California this week. The house is filled with art and remnants from Eritrea, including a handful of woven homemade baskets. She hasn’t been back to her native country in decades, and doesn’t want to leave anything behind, including the bags filled with photo albums.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Elsa Ghirmasion said.

w0_la_ma_wine_country_fires.jpg
(Los Angeles Times)

Ness Salonga, another Coffey Park resident, said he was prepared when the Kincade fire hit. Although he says he is still traumatized from the Tubbs fire, as his house was just two blocks away from the flames, Salonga put to use what he learned two years ago to ensure that his family would be ready to leave when the call to evacuate arrived. There would be no scrambling, there would be no panic.

His 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son had already packed their bags. Salonga said that he woke up throughout the night to check the status of the fire in Coffey Park. Then at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, when the mandatory evacuation order came, his family and three home facility residents under Salonga’s care moved to the evacuation center at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

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“This time, we were ready,” he said.

coffey park memorial
A memorial dedicated to those who died in the 2017 Tubbs fire stands on an empty lot in Coffey Park. A layer of smoke from the Kincade fire surrounds the heart-shaped installation.
(Colleen Shalby / Los Angeles Times)

The Serdins chose not to leave right away. On Sunday at 4:30 a.m., the family was ordered to evacuate amid the orange glow of the Kincade fire. But they opted to stay to protect their home, at least until their lives were in imminent danger.

Overnight, Rick Serdin vigilantly watered down his and his neighbors’ homes, keeping watch as smoke filled the streets. Inside their living room, the family watched the latest news briefing as officials detailed the latest stats of a fire that has burned tens of thousands of acres.

Rick Serdin described it as deja vu, but does not believe his neighborhood will meet the same fate it did two years ago.

The family’s new house was just completed in January, along with dozens of others in Coffey Park. Residents had an anniversary party on Oct. 9, celebrating the rebirth of their neighborhood. No one anticipated another threat of fire.

On Monday morning, the sound of a saw cut through the air, as a construction crew from Yuba County worked on one previously destroyed home, unaware of the evacuation orders when they arrived. They said they also planned to stick it out until they saw others leave.

“If we lost it again, we weren’t coming back,” Debbie Serdin said. “Everyone knows Coffey Park couldn’t handle it again.”

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