Santa Rosa neighborhood celebrates recovery and reflects 1 year after North Bay Fires

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- A Santa Rosa neighborhood, called the Larkfield Estates, celebrated their recovery Monday night with a block party, on the one-year anniversary of the North Bay fires.

"I remember pulling up to the mouth of the neighborhood and just seeing fire everywhere. You couldn't actually make out the houses, it just seemed like an entire wall of fire," said Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshall, Paul Lowenthal, who owns a home in the Larkfield Estates.

Lowenthal left his house to respond to a fire in Downtown Santa Rosa the night the North Bay Fires broke out. Four hours later, around 2:30 a.m., he was evacuating a nearby neighborhood and realized the Larkfield Estates, and his home was on fire.

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"In some respects, it seemed like it just happened yesterday and for other parts of it, it seems like it has been years."

Lowenthal says it took some time for him to realize as a firefighter that he needed to ask for and accept help.

"You don't ever think it's going to happen to you, right? We're so used to responding and helping other people, it's the nature of our business. We got into this line of work to help others. We want to be the people helping, not the people that need the help."

With help from family, friends and the community, Lowenthal decided to rebuild. One year later, Lowenthal gave ABC7 a tour of his nearly completed house. It's on the same lot as his old house and is surrounded by new home construction in various stages, a long way from the field of ashes the Tubbs fire left behind.

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Empty for most of the year, on Monday night, the neighborhood was filled with families, who came back to Larkfield Estates to celebrate their new beginnings.

"All these cupboards just close by themselves!" Proud of her new kitchen and bathrooms, Nancy Thiele and her family moved back into their home on Oxford Court on Saturday. They were the first to move back into the neighborhood after the fires.

Like so many fire victims, they lost all their possessions. It was a hard lesson to learn, but Nancy says she now loves living with less.

"I feel like we almost had too many things," said Nancy who added, "less is more, it's nice to be simple."

RELATED: Under-insured homeowners left without enough to rebuild after North Bay Fires

There is still a lot of work to be done in the neighborhood. There are still families battling with insurance companies and plenty of empty lots that have yet to break ground. But judging by their progress in one year, it's not hard to imagine that next year, most families will be back home and Larkfield Strong.

For more stories and videos from the North Bay Fires go to this page.
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