Survivor stories from The Great Wine Fires of 2017 as told to The Luxury Marketing Council of San Francisco

Suzanne O’BrienSuzanne O’Brien
4th Generation Santa Rosan and Respected Coldwell Banker Realtor


A personal disaster:
Suzanne O’Brien’s home was located at 1893 Fumay Drive, Santa Rosa. Destruction was total, with only brick support pillars still standing. The property was insured, although it awaits formal inspection and the uncertainty as to what extent the insurance payout will cover the replacement cost. Suzanne was finally allowed to inspect the property on Sunday October 22nd—two weeks after the event.

How did it happen?
Suzanne, who lives alone, with the recent passing of her husband of 49 years, grew concerned about unusually-powerful 70+ MPH winds that had developed around 10.00 PM on Sunday evening, October 8th. She and neighbors noticed the glow of fires in the distant North, but saw no need for alarm. Loss of electricity soon followed. But the neighborhood remained quiet, not anticipating the impending wall of the flame—until it was too late. Because there was no available information at that late hour, nor any warnings issued by fire or police authorities, Suzanne went to bed after ensuring that the garage door was open. Her only source of current information was Next Door, which reported real time feedback on a neighborhood basis. But bed was a brief detour. Growing alarmed by the Next Door updates, she eventually elected to leave at approximately 2.00 AM and join friends at a local shopping center where evacuees were gathering in order to share information. At 10.00 AM Monday, a friend called to advise that Suzanne’s entire neighborhood had been incinerated.

What was lost?Suzanne O’Brien standing in front of what's left of her home. Survivor stories from The Great Wine Fires of 2017 as told to The Luxury Marketing Council of San Francisco
Everything from her former life, except car, purse and the clothes on her back. No pets were involved. Of all the material possessions she lost, Suzanne laments not rescuing wedding rings as well as prized pieces of her grandparents’ art. When the Hazmat team sifted the ashes, the only item they found was a small, white-marble Bible, from County Mayo in Ireland, a gift from her grandfather.
Her current status:
Suzanne is currently living in Montecito Heights with a client and friend whose home she recently listed for sale. Because the property is now in escrow, she will move to a second friend’s home before settling into a relative’s cozy mobile home where she will remain as she debates whether or not to rebuild. Although her business partner is handling the bulk of the business, she continues to make and take business calls. A realtor’s job is never done!

Suzanne remains in a state-of-shock awaiting the effects of delayed reaction—another version of PTSD. And her mind keeps revisiting, with recrimination, the loss of those wedding rings and artwork. (“Why didn’t I pack them in the car while I had the time?”)

Suzanne O’Brien standing in front of what's left of her home. Survivor stories from The Great Wine Fires of 2017 as told to The Luxury Marketing Council of San FranciscoHer biggest surprise is the fact that she hasn’t fallen apart. All of that she attributes to close friends who provided immediate support, as well as her business partner Eileen O’Keefe and their brokerage staff. “They’re my rock. They gave me comfort, stability and unconditional love when I needed it most”.
What does the future look like?
Suzanne suffers multiple anxieties—about the future of her real estate brokerage, and the arduous search for a home that matches the adored property that she lost—a special haven for family and friends, and cherished memories. “It was my refuge”.

Suzanne will continue working and has no plans for retirement. She’ll travel more and will take up volunteer work with an animal shelter. (“Animals give me comfort”). She’s not sure about rebuilding. It was time to downsize anyway. But the one thing she is sure of —“I will always stay in Santa Rosa”.
How can we help?
Ever the realtor, Suzanne suggests, with jest, that sending real estate leads wouldn’t hurt (707.494.8572). Old habits never die!


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