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Northern California firestorm shocks real estate community


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At 1 a.m. local time this morning, real estate agent Sarah Carlson was awoken by her teenage daughter as she became alarmed by fast-approaching fire.

“We could see the flames over the hills,” said Carlson, who lives in in Skyhawk, Santa Rosa, and works for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Wine Country Group. “We left immediately; we were concerned about traffic.” There is only one way in and one way out where she and her family live.

Wildfire destroys Round Barn Inn in Fountaingrove / Photos courtesy of Otto Kobler, Summit Funding

She isn’t alone. Many California residents evacuated this morning as wildfires took hold overnight in the North Bay Area.

As of press time the San Francisco Chronicle reported at least 1,500 homes and commercial facilities had been destroyed in 14 fires burning across eight counties in Northern California, including Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Yuba counties, according to Chief Ken Pimlott of the California Department of of Forestry and Fire Protection. Twenty thousand acres have burned in Santa Rosa alone, the LA Times reported.

Pimlott said there was zero containment on any of the fires, the largest of which was in the wine region of Calistoga. The Chronicle reported one fatality as of late morning. Amid what’s being deemed one of the worst firestorms in California history, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

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Carlson, who relocated with her family to stay with friends in Sebastapol, is communicating mainly through social media and text message with her community to get news updates on the fate of homes and public buildings. In Santa Rosa, major landmarks and historical structures Carlson has known all her life have been burned down. A winery just three miles from her home is gone.

“It’s a devastating thing that this is happening in our hometown. I am seeing the places I frequent burning down,” she said. “Nothing like this has ever happened as quickly as this has spread and it’s in populated areas. So it’s affecting homeowners and businesses.”

Carlson has clients whose homes have been destroyed. One house that she recently listed survived while the surrounding area burned down.

The agent, who maintains strong community ties, shuddered to think of the cost of the fire to the area.

While Santa Rosa median sales are $580,000 right now, many of the ravaged homes were $1 million-plus properties or mobile homes, Carlson said.

And danger looms. Her advice to those in Santa Rosa is “get your animals, get your kids and get out of Santa Rosa. It’s still zero percent contained.”

Other agents in the North Bay were not immediately affected by the fires but are keeping a close eye on where they were spreading next (much of southern California is under warning, according to the Chronicle, while one subdivision in the area has gone up in flames). Some are posting useful information to their Facebook pages for clients and friends in case of emergency.

Jessica Callison, based in Vacaville with Keller Williams’ Callison and Vasquez Real Estate Services, shared a post by the Solano County Sheriff’s office advising that residents not call 911 to report smoke, as emergency responders were aware and working to provide assistance to evacuees.

She recommended that locals keep an eye on additional reports coming out of the sheriff’s offices.

Mike Cohen, meanwhile, with Bradley Real Estate, had a number of practical tips for his Facebook friends, including keeping propane BBQ appliances away from the house and turning off the home gas.

En route to Petaluma, he said he was driving through thick smoke and receiving news updates from relatives. “Waking up this morning it all happened so quickly; it had just spread so rapidly,” he said.

As is common with disasters like this, communications were down.

A spokeswoman for Pacific Union had put a call into the Sonoma office and was told they had no power and were accessing Wi-Fi at a coffee shop. Many of their people have been told to evacuate, she said.

Email Gill South

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