A BONE Structure Net Zero Energy home rises from the ashes
in Santa Rosa, CA.
by Molly Miller
with photographs by Howard Booster
On October 10, 2018, I am standing on a hill in Santa Rosa, California, beside Howard Booster on the place where his multi-generational family home of 35 years once stood. Exactly one year ago to the day, he climbed over the ridge in the distance and came in on foot to see what was left of his home.
The roads were closed, and hiking was the only way in after a fast moving wildfire sparked by a downed PG&E power line swept through in the middle of the night on October 9. Howard evacuated at about 4am. A neighbor who did not evacuate took video and Howard could see that his house was still standing at 6am after the fire had passed through.
An aerial view showing the Booster’s home as it stood in 1991, and following the October 2017 fire.
But when he walked into his place later that morning, he found nothing left. It was not even smoldering. It was just gone. The home survived the wildfire itself but the embers had blown up into the soffit vents. Two or three hours later, it burned from the inside out. When he walked over to his garage, it looked like the ground was covered in Italian tiles. The charred asphalt shingles, the only thing left of the building, littered the ground. (This is one of the ways he confirmed the buildings burned from the inside, and according to fire officials, hot embers entering through vents was a common cause of homes burning in this disaster that destroyed thousands of homes in a single night.)
The great room, often used as concert venue.
The night of the fire Howard, a retired engineer, had been preparing for a year to climb to Mount Everest Base Camp on an adventure with a group of musician friends, one of whom made one of Howard’s fiddles. Howard plays fiddle in two bands and for local contra dances and he and his wife Merritt have hosted countless house concerts in their now destroyed home over the past 35 years.
Howard would not be going to the Himalayas. He got a call about the fire around midnight. From his window, he could see an orange glow on the ridgeline. Then, between 1 and 2am, he saw flames. Merritt and her 97-year-old father Ray, who lived in a second residence on the property, headed off to Ray’s church in Santa Rosa. Ray volunteers there at the Presbyterian Church of the Roses and has a key. The church runs a food kitchen, where they offer meals to kids every day. It soon became a rescue center.