The first post-fire community meeting on rebuilding occurred tonight at the Middletown High School Stadium. I couldn't be late and was rushing. When I came to a traffic jam approaching Middletown on 29 I turned onto a residential street to avoid the blockage. It didn't take much to feel like one was on the backside of a movie set. The devastation was thorough and complete and reminiscent of the Oakland Berkeley Firestorm. Burned out cars, and rubble were everywhere.
It was a moving experience seeing all the people in need of help and the various agencies mobilizing to come to their aid. The first step is the toxic clean up and this can result in a substantial removal of soil and concrete from a burn site. This excavation can leave quite a depression that requires new soil to be trucked in. Many homes in the area predate the elimination of asbestos and lead in building materials and its important the soil tests free of these materials prior to the owner's reentry. There is also a real incentive to get these sites cleaned up before too much debris gets blown around. The rebuilding effort is just starting.
I was honored to be asked by the AIA to say a few words about the rebuilding process to the community and as I thought about my remarks leading up to the meeting it became increasingly clear that people were just getting their heads around a big change in their life. The actual building of a home was a ways off and the practical advice people needed at this point was how to navigate the often byzantine insurance process, show proof of loss and secure a fair payout. For architects this work is primarily confined to the forensic task of documenting the pre-fire condition of the structure and capturing as much value in this description as possible.
PG&E has already run over 100 miles of wire and put 750 new telephone poles in the ground. Leaving the meeting it was heartening to see the main drag of Middletown lit up inside various store fronts. The people inside these oases of light seemed to be experiencing a kind of community, for all their other loses, that other towns seem to lack. One saving grace. It reminded me of Greg Brown's quote "This whole idea of intentional community is a bunch of bologna. You gotta need each other." I'd like to believe people need each other even when they don't realize it but the people of Middletown are under no illusion.