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Smith: Neighbors thank Shirley White for helping save their homes

Shirley White (middle) with two of her Montecito Heights neighbors. (COURTESY PHOTO)

CHRIS SMITH, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Strangers bearing gifts appeared days ago at the home of 86-year-old Shirley White on Santa Rosa’s hilly, tree-canopied Montecito Avenue.

The nearly 10 of them presented Shirley lovely cards of gratitude — and personal checks. They told her it was the least they could do to help her pay for new plants and trees in the portion of her yard that was burned last October by a small fire independent of those that ravaged vast swaths of the region.

The visitors came from homes in the Montecito Meadow neighborhood just down the hill to the west from where Shirley lives. Said the instigator of the gathering in Shirley’s front yard, Lorenzo Freschet, “There is no question in our minds that she saved ours and many, many others.”

It was Shirley, you may recall, who heard a crashing noise shortly past midnight on the morning of Oct 9. She jumped from bed and looked out to see flames near a large, just-fallen Douglas fir.

She’d learn later that high winds had snapped the tree, causing it to fall onto a power line alongside her yard and ignite vegetation. Shirley ran out in her nightgown and took after the flames with her garden hose.

She feared that if the fire grew, the fierce wind would carry it who knows how far.

“Never have I seen wind like that,” Shirley said at the time. “I just knew with those winds that I had to get it down and get it down fast.”

Other neighbors and also Santa Rosa firefighters arrived to help her, and after two assaults put down the flames. Shirley was an instant hero to her immediate neighbors, though she’s quick always to say, “I didn’t do this all by myself. I was just the first responder.”

The folks from down the hill at Montecito Meadow who are convinced that an unchallenged wildfire at Shirley’s place would likely have devoured their homes had to persuade Shirley to let them chip in on her new landscaping.

She told them she envisions a sign amid the fresh plantings to read: Grateful Garden.

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COMING UP DAFFODILS: Cloverdale High students heading for lunch paused the other day to accept bundles of 16 daffodils from Merle Reuser, our reliable-as-the-seasons Daffodil Man.

Merle began handing out bouquets at Cloverdale High years ago to honor student Courtney Jade Davis, who succumbed to cancer in 2008. She was 16, thus the 16 daffodils in each bunch.

The Daffodil Man’s latest giveaway at Cloverdale High of more than 5,000 flowers was a tribute to Courtney and all the children Cloverdale has lost to cancer.

Merle has made gifts of nearly 180,000 cut daffodils or bulbs, and he aims by 2030 to distribute a million.

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TREE OF HOPE: For a week at Beer Baron in Santa Rosa, fans of local Fogbelt beers, many of them named for great trees, tied notes of post-fire encouragement onto a Sequoia sapling that Fogbelt brought into the tavern.

Fogbelt general manager Greg Coll and a crew then carried the young tree to the remains of a home off Mark West Springs Road and planted it.

Pardon Coll if the gesture of renewal and hope seemed to get to him. He lost his home in Coffey Park to the firestorms, too.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.