From the time Amy Marlar’s Coffey Park home burned, she began sifting. Every day for weeks she returned to the ashes and metal that once was her home to dig. It almost became an obsession.
“I’ve been sifting pretty much ever single day since it happened,” said Marlar, 46, who spent all but five years of her life in Coffey Park. It is where she grew up and where she had lived for the past 10 years in a rental on Santiago Drive with her daughter. “I have bags and bags and bags in a storage area of just broken stuff.”
For years she collected Portuguese pottery; her grandmother is from Portugal. Those shards will eventually become part of a mosaic.
She keeps going back because she keeps finding things beneath the debris. She stops by after work each day — she works in medical claims for Sonoma County — and in the waning winter light, digs until dark.
The most important treasure she’s pulled from the ash is her grandmother’s rosary.
“The wooden beads were burned off, but Jesus on the cross is in perfect condition,” she said. “It was a great find for me because it’s the only thing I have left from them. Everything I’ve ever accumulated for 46 years was in that house. I just want to get every single thing I can possible recover. I keep thinking if I don’t go back, something I don’t know about is under the debris. Until the very last day and they clear the lot, I will be going back.”
Marlar’s grim mission is all too common in Sonoma County — Sonoma Valley to Rincon Valley, Fountaingrove to Larkfield — where 5,130 homes were destroyed in October’s inferno.
People who lost everything are digging for whatever they can recover. What has emerged from the ash seems both random and oddly prophetic. Some are trying to derive both comfort and hope from the objects that somehow, miraculously survived.
Kim Murphy, 60, lost both her home and her office, both in lower Fountaingrove. All but the memory of family heirlooms are wiped out. She was particularly determined to find a chandelier that had once graced the home of her great grandparents in Helena, Montana. But that was wishful thinking. What was found, instead, was something much more modest — a Christmas ornament that said “Blessings.”
It was her son and some of his fraternity buddies who unearthed it. “Everybody was so excited to find it. They were cheering. The ground was still smoking,” she recalled of that morning after the fire raged across the mountain at more than 2,200 degrees, so hot it melted their Lexus.
One other thing that survived? One piece out of the family’s Christmas nativity set.
“Our baby Jesus was intact in his little manger but Mary and Joseph and The Wise Men were not wiser after the adventure of the fire. They got a little beat up in all that.”
Murphy did manage to pull out a few horse bits, all that was left of the horse equipment she was saving in hopes that one day she and her husband could rescue draft horses from Canada raised for the drug Premarin and put them to use in therapy programs. They’re not usable but they are a tactile reminder of the dream, And she’s collecting shards of pottery that she hopes to commission Santa Rosa High ArtStart students to turn into a commemorative park bench,