Marty Thompson and Julie Kiil
Residents returned to Oakmont from eight days with families and friends and in hotel rooms after firefighters stopped the Glass wildfire at the edge of the community, saving all but six of Oakmont’s 3,200 homes.
Residents faced a cleanup job, removing ash from yards and patios and disposing of food that had rotted in powerless refrigerators and freezers. Although utilities in Oakmont are underground, power lines from outside are on wooden poles which burned, cutting electricity that might have powered appliances during the evacuation.
Flames and wind-blown cinders from the wildfire burned homes and buildings on the north side of Highway 12, then crossed the
highway to scorch the ground and many wood fences before reaching the houses that were destroyed.
OVA President Steve Spanier said in a statement: “Sadly, the fire seems to have taken a handful of our homes, thereby rupturing the lives of some of our residents. Although the home loss is far less than it could have been had first responders not so valiantly held the lines protecting Oakmont, we know this is still unfathomably hard for those who lost homes. As always, our hearts go out to these neighbors and our everlasting gratitude goes to the first responder organizations that saved our community from more widespread devastation.”
Spanier also said he expected the board to vote in its October meeting on dues forgiveness for owners whose homes were lost.
“In the meantime, we know that the pain of your loss coupled with the pain of not being able to return is a terrible burden to bear. You are in our thoughts and we will do what we can to smooth the path you now must walk,” Spanier wrote in an email.
OVA staff, working from home, provided a stream of email information from the city, PG&E and other sources on getting utilities restarted, cleaning up fallen ash, disposing of spoiled foods and other emergency information.
Returnees were greeted by electronic “Welcome Home” signs placed at entrances to Oakmont by PG&E. The utility’s Joe Horak said its gas service restoration team was responsible. He told OVA, “So glad we were able to help. This is not a fun process for your residents so I am glad we are helping to make it a bit less difficult.”
Although the evacuation notice for Oakmont’s three zones was lifted on Monday, Oct. 5, evacuation warning notices remained in place until being lifted by the police department three days later on Oct. 8 – the third anniversary of the start of the 2017 wildfires.
By Wednesday evening, Oct. 7, PG&E said it had restored gas service to all residents who had returned home with only 300 remaining. Notices were hung on doors of homes where utility representatives were unable to make contact. The utility had 200 workers restoring service in Oakmont.
PG&E expected to pull its crew out of Oakmont by Thursday, Oct. 9. Anyone still without gas was asked to call the utility at 800-PGE-5000.
A large PG&E staging area serving the region was located across Highway 12 at Pythian Road.
The utility said it had to replace around 740 wood power poles in Sonoma County. Crews were busy doing that along the Highway 12 corridor. The fire also burned wooden posts holding guardrails, and CalTrans installed concrete barriers in their place.
Mail delivery resumed Oct. 7 and 8, postal workers stuffing mailboxes with a week’s worth of mail, the volume swollen with election campaign material – including absentee ballots.
Recology, the garbage firm, allowed residents to put out plastic bags with their garbage cans if necessary to dispose of spoiled food.
With the evacuation, play was suspended on Oakmont’s golf courses. ClourseCo, the operator, said they reopened on Tuesday, Oct. 6.
The wildfire evacuation echoed Oakmont’s experience only three years ago. The 2017 wildfires came over the hills to the north, prompting an evacuation order that emptied the community for some nine days. Two homes burned that year.