An Open Letter to our California Fire Survivors
Photo by Michele Zousmer
Since I began working in spring of 2018 with survivors of the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, I have come to appreciate the enormity of the tragedy and the challenging road ahead for so many of you. Only now, almost three years after the fire, have most of the homes lost begun the process of rebuilding. Many have chosen to sell their property rather than face the daunting task of designing and rebuilding their home, while a few remaining are still trying to decide what to do, rebuild or move on.
Since the Tubbs Fire, there was the Camp Fire in Paradise, the most destructive in California history (until August 2020), and the Woolsey Fire, the worst in Malibu history, joining those already looking for help and a way forward. The 2019 Kincade, Getty & Tick fires added even more survivors to what is now a rolling list. The Kincade Fire came dangerously close to burning properties that were in the process of rebuilding from the Tubbs Fire - the only thing worse than losing your home would be losing it twice.
Here I am, editing this letter again to add a note about the horrific, unimaginable record-breaking season we have upon us. Whereas last year (2019), more than 300,000 acres were burned in the entire season, we are now at nearly 2.5 million acres. And it's not even fall yet. Unfortunately the worse may be yet to come.
I would also like to reach out to those who have suffered in Oregon and Washington; the solutions we propose here are available to you as well.
Designing your own custom home is a challenging process under normal circumstances; in fact, only a small minority of home owners really even want to take on a project that will absorb 90% of their everyday life for two to three years. When someone does make that decision, it is usually after years of planning and dreaming, and hiring an architect to get started is an exciting and happy moment.
When you've lost your home, everything in it, and possibly even more, starting the process to rebuild your home is an emotional, difficult and bittersweet moment. The tasks can feel overwhelming; the huge amounts of data that need to be assimilated, questions to be answered and decisions to be made simply add to the stress and trauma that you are already experiencing.
I also happen to be trained and certified by the State of California in Crisis Intervention and Trauma Informed Care, a requirement of the work that I've been doing for the past five years as a volunteer helping survivors of violent crime. I am now putting this training to use serving fire survivors as you begin the journey back home.
I have developed a simplified approach to the design process; one that is sensitive not only to time constraints, but also to your unique needs as someone who is not only rebuilding your home, but rebuilding your life. The Phoenix Home offers fire survivors a streamlined solution that simplifies the process, adding clarity and certainty at a time when you need it most. And most importantly, your new home will never burn again.
We have added a couple of tools here on the website to help you get started. One is the Square Footage Estimator - it's an easy calculator that will give you an idea about how big your new home should be, and a general idea of the total cost of building a Phoenix Home. There's also a Questionnaire; these are typical, basic questions that I'll ask at the beginning of any residential project. It should get you thinking about the things that are important to you, and how you want to live in your new home.
Feel free to contact me personally, either via email or by calling my studio, if you would like more information. Although I am based in San Diego, I make frequent trips to the rebuild areas. I would be more than happy to hold a small Q&A workshop in your area, if you have neighbors and friends who need help too. Just send me an email.
My heart goes out to all of you who have experienced what is certainly the worst nightmare of your life. But you survived, and you will return. The silver lining in all this is that you get a brand new home; let's work together to make that happen as easily and painlessly as possible.
Best wishes moving forward,
Laurie C. Fisher, CA Registered Architect