Special Report: Looking Back at the Tubbs Fire 8 Months Later

SONOMA COUNTY -- "Ash was falling down on us, smoke was everywhere, some streets were deserted," Jennielynn Holmes recalls. "You never think it's going to happen here. You never think it's going to happen."

It's been more than eight months since the Tubbs Fire first sparked and Holmes remembers it like it was yesterday.

"I remember going to sleep, and feeling uneasey about something. And then waking up at 1 a.m., and realizing—this is the moment that is going to change Sonoma County forever," Holmes said.

She was right.

In a matter of hours, the wind-whipped flames killed at least 22 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa alone.

But, Holmes counts herself lucky. Her home was spared.

As the executive director of Catholic Charities, Sonoma County's largest homeless shelter, she knows countless friends, neighbors and clients  who lost everything.

"There is not a person in Sonoma County who does not know people who have lost their homes. I mean, everyone was touched by this. In one way or another," Holmes said.

The magnitude of what was lost in Santa Rosa becomes clear in the Fountain Grove neighborhood.

Entire streets where homes once stood, are still empty.

What remains ... cement steps, concrete driveways and melted lamp posts. Many vacant lots featuring "for sale" signs; each one, representing a family not willing, or able to return and rebuild.

"The sheer volume of destruction, and the territory that was covered in a short period of time, was almost unprecedented," Assistant Fire Marshall Paul Lowenthal explained.

As the state once again moves into fire season, he was back in the Fountain Grove neighborhood checking for weed growth.

"That`s a program that I manage, and I want to see what`s working, what`s not working, and make sure the concerns of our community are addressed even in the fire burn area," Lowenthal said.

Lowenthal knows their concerns well because he lost his own home to the Tubbs Fire.

"There are still people experiencing trauma and there are still people continuing to recover," Lowenthal said. "We knew it was going to be a long road to recovery. But we`re definitely going to be hand-in-hand with our community in pushing us forward."

Lowenthal says, most of the debris from the wildfires has finally been removed -- a massive undertaking that took crews months.

"That was 2.2 million tons of debris removed out of the four respective counties. Primarily, most of it came from here, in Sonoma County," he explained.

Across the city, construction crews are hard at work on the next phase of recovery: rebuilding.

So far, the city of Santa Rosa says 266 homes are under construction most of them are in the devastated Coffey Park neighborhood.

Two have already been completed, ready for families to make new memories.

But, Holmes says the trauma of the Tubbs Fire isn't fully healed yet.

"But now, it`s really the hard part. And that`s the long-term recovery. And everything we`ve been looking at shows, it`s a 5-6 year journey we`re still going to be going on," Holmes said.

But, she has hope.

Hope, that Santa Rosa will continue to recover, to rebuild what was lost and to rise from the ashes.

"It`s something we are all going to be living for the rest of our lives," Holmes said "It`s a part of Sonoma County`s fabric and its history now."