Two months later, California wildfire victims begin the long road to rebuilding

Image: Renee Johnson stands in the middle of her burned home in the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa
Renee Johnson stands in the middle of her burned home in the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa, California on Oct. 20, 2017.Josh Edelson / AFP - Getty Images

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By Joe Fryer, Dan Corey and Bita Ryan

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Jennafer Carlin Rosset had a bad feeling she wouldn't be returning to her house when her family evacuated their Santa Rosa, California, home in October.

“I knew it was going to be bad,” she told NBC News. “We had an alarm on our house and even though it wasn’t alarmed — basically when the house went up in flames, my husband got about 50 messages on his phone.”

Two months later, fire-ravaged debris still litters many neighborhoods in Northern California, where 44 people died and more than 6,000 homes were destroyed by blazes that devastated much of Sonoma County and elsewhere in the region.

Collectively, the fires are among the deadliest in the state’s history. The last single fire to kill as many people was the Cedar Fire in San Diego County during October 2003, which decimated 2,200 homes after being accidentally started by a hunter.

But for the survivors like Carlin Rosset, adjusting to the aftermath has been difficult. For starters, she now wakes up her children at 6:30 every morning to drive 35 minutes to and from school. They used to live a short walk away.

Related: ‘Like an atom bomb hit’: Santa Rosa residents confront devastation

Carlin Rosset said enduring the traffic is worthwhile so her children can be with their community.

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“The school has been amazing with providing support,” she said. “But it’s rough. It’s really rough when everything that you know in your life turns upside down.”

Many children have been supportive with each other and recognized that they shared a traumatic experience, said Matt Park, the lead psychologist for Santa Rosa City Schools, where about 25 percent of students have lost their homes to the fires.

“I know that for myself and for most of those parents, it’s about community,” Park, who also lost his home in the fire, told NBC News. “It’s about trying to get back to some kind of normalcy. And that, for kids, is being at school.”

Renee Johnson stands in the middle of her burned home in the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa, California on Oct. 20, 2017.Josh Edelson / AFP - Getty Images

Park's son is in kindergarten at Hidden Valley Elementary School, where nearly half of his class and a quarter of the students lost their homes.

Photos: Massive wildfires consume homes across Northern California

But for parents like Carlin Rosset and Park, trying to make sure their kids' lives return to normal is just one of many tasks to juggle while meeting with insurance adjusters, architects and contractors. For many, rebuilding physical homes is expected to take another year or two.

Rebuilding is now a full-time job for June Clark, who lost her home of 38 years.

During the first 12 days after the fire ravaged her house, June Clark endured three hospital visits, two ambulance rides and a surgery to trim her vocal chords and a neck polyp.

She and her husband, Jamie, have since moved into a temporary rental home, where they plan to stay until their house is rebuilt.

“I really thought it would be easier to make this a home than it has been,” Clark said. “We call it ‘the rental.’ And there’ll come a day when we’ll call it home. Because we’re going to be a here quite a while.”

Related: Couple Married 55 Years Jump in Pool to Survive California Fire; She Dies in His Arms

While she dreams of escaping the fire’s aftermath in Hawaii — sitting by the pool, with a cocktail in hand — Clark has been confronting her new reality instead, reviewing her home insurance policy and verifying she and Jamie have enough coverage to rebuild.

“Before you can even begin to build, there is so much to do,” she said. “We’re going to have to have them bring in dirt. We’re going to have to have a grading permit. Then they’ll have to come back out and verify that the drainage is right.”

In the meantime, the Clark family said Christmas will be all about family instead of presents.

“The new year will definitely bring a lot of challenges,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of decision making, which means a lot of research.”