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Hemlock Street

Survivors on Hemlock Street

Oct 23, 2017
by David Abbott

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Dan and Stacey Hageman live just east of Coffey Park, in a house at the point where Hemlock Street and Dogwood Drive meet on the northeastern edge of a neighborhood almost completely destroyed in the firestorm that roared off Fountaingrove on Monday, Oct. 9.

Dan Hageman recalls his harrowing morning fighting the fire that destroyed most of his Coffey Park neighborhood.Just over a fence is Hopper Avenue, where the neighborhood to the north was decimated as well.

“My husband Dan woke up around midnight and smelled smoke,” Stacey Hageman said. “It was all over the street and Hopper was glowing orange. The winds were howling, blowing ‘orange popcorn’ all over.”

They called 911 and were assured emergency crews were on the way as they watched the trees and bushes over the fence go up in flames.

“All the trees went up and the wind was so hot in our back yard,” she said.

They pulled out garden hoses and fought the fire for more than two hours, soaking the house, an RV in the driveway and all the bushes and trees they could reach. Dan Hageman, a construction worker by trade, shut off the gas to the house to keep it from going up in an explosion.

He did not want to leave, but the wall of fire was growing, cutting off their escape route. It was soon apparent that if they continued to fight, there would be no way out. Dan Hageman turned the sprinkler on full blast and left the future of their house to fate.

They loaded the dog and cat into their truck and headed to the mobile home park where Stacey’s father lived, about a mile south of the house on Hemlock Street.

As they tried to escape, they found the roads were blocked by cars and fallen, burning trees as fire trucks began speeding into the neighborhood. They went down three different roads in a neighborhood filled with dead ends and cul-de-sacs, with only three exits, and were finally able to make it out.

Stacey believes it was around 2:45 a.m.

But just two hours later, Rancho San Miguel Mobile Home Park was evacuated too. The park escaped the inferno—the fire came within a few blocks, damaging structures and razing a mobile home park on Range and Piner avenues—nonetheless, they had to find another place.

“We went to a friend’s house and sat in the dark with four other families, but one of Dan’s friends came by and said our house was still standing,” Stacey said. “There were still fires in the backyard, so Dan went home to put them out.”

By about 9 a.m., they were able to return to the house, one of only two structures left intact on the Hemlock Street side of the block. The east side of Dogwood Drive is still standing, although the west side went up with the rest of the neighborhood.

Waiting out the wildfires

The check point outside Journey’s End was well-guarded on Friday, Oct 20. City employee Sherrine Wilson worked the entrance.In the days following the fire, while fire crews were still fighting blazes that threatened Santa Rosa from the southeast, the Hageman’s waited in their house, sitting amid the burned out wreckage of the surrounding structures.

“We’re very fortunate,” Stacey said in the days before residents were officially allowed to return. “They’re not letting anyone in or out. PG&E has been busting their butts and we’re super thankful to Red Cross, PG&E and Mark Maystrovich.”

Maystrovich is the Code Enforcement Officer for the City of Santa Rosa and has been supportive of survivors in the neighborhood, even bringing food for Stacey to feed cats who survived the blaze.

Additionally, the Christian Family Fellowship on Hopper Avenue provided breakfast and dinner free for the firefighters.

Journey’s End Mobile Home ParkBut it has been an eerie experience for the Hagemans. They live in a ghost town, more or less, and in the week or so after as fire raged in the hills to the east of Santa Rosa, a random shift of wind could fill the sky with a toxic haze of smoke and rain ashes down to cover anything that was not already ashy gray.

“There are no words to describe it: my house is still standing and they’re sifting through the ruins of their homes,” Stacey said a few days after the fire. “We’re just in a daze. What’s normal? We’ve been in lockdown for seven days and Monday (Oct. 16) was the first day out of the house. I felt like a zombie. It was scary.”

Finding ‘normal’

As the fires subsided and a brief, welcome rain briefly washed the sky, evacuation orders were lifted and on Friday, Oct. 20, the City of Santa Rosa finally allowed people to return to the ruins of their homes. Dan Hageman went back to work doing construction and Stacey Hageman went back to her job at Memorial Hospital.

SPC Masaru Kikuta and PV2 Mikah Leyvas from the San Diego National Guard.The streets around the most damaged parts of Santa Rosa are barricaded and the National Guard, many coming from San Diego, patrols intersections to keep non-residents out.

A combination of National Guard, law enforcement officials from numerous agencies and jurisdictions throughout California as well as many city employees have set up roadblocks at strategic points. The only way to get into the FountaingroveCoffey Park or  Journey’s End Mobile Home Park, which was almost completely destroyed in the blaze, is to have an ID proving residence.

The breadth and depth of the disaster has touched nearly everyone in Sonoma County and the people who have stepped up during the emergency have been affected as well.

Sherrine Wilson, a manager for Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks was one of those people. Wilson and her husband lived on Pine Meadow Place. Their backyard neighbors were on Dogwood, adjacent to Coffey Park.

Coincidentally, Wilson and Stacey Hageman are friends—their daughters Jessica and Holly, respectively, went to school together—further evidence of the effect the disaster has had on the community.

On Friday morning as the residents of Journey’s End returned to sift through the rubble, Wilson was with a crew handing out passes, gloves, water and snacks, despite enduring the same tragic loss in her life.

“We got a call from the city to come to work at 1:30 that morning,” she said. “We took our RV to work, not because we thought our house was in danger, but we thought we’d be away for a few days dealing with the fire.”

She later found that her house was burned to the ground, as they were busy helping other people deal with the disaster.

Wilson said they are going to rebuild though and hopes that someday, the neighborhood she calls home will return.

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