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At Sonoma event, hundreds of bicycles handed out to fire victims

Near the end of Coffey Lane, just behind what used to be the wooden gate of what used to be a house, a girl’s bicycle lies on its side in the dirt.

The pink-and-blue Schwinn with handlebar streamers at first glance seems ridable, as if it somehow escaped the fate of the white “fixer-upper” home behind it with vineyard views, purchased by the Soto family five years ago and about 90 percent “fixed up” when the Tubbs fire roared through Coffey Park on Oct. 9.

A second look at the bicycle makes clear it did not escape: The back tire is singed, the seat gone and the metal frame partially charred.

The bike belonged to 10-year-old Dulce Soto, and she loved it, riding almost daily south on Coffey Lane all the way to Hopper Avenue with neighborhood friends. Her father, Julian Soto, taught her to ride when she was 5, the parent-child right of passage fraught with anxiety for both parties. “It’s kind of hard to do it, right?” 45-year-old Julian Soto said, laughing. “You have to be strict. It’s hard because I don’t want her to fall, but she doesn’t want to listen, so I get upset. But I get upset because she might fall because she’s not listening to me!”

He planned to buy another bike for Dulce, but thanks to a Sunday bicycle giveaway for fire victims in Sonoma, he didn’t have to.

“It’s like Christmas,” he said.

His daughter’s new bicycle - a pink Schwinn girls’ mountain bike - was one of hundreds passed out to fire victims outside Highway 12 Vineyards & Winery’s warehouse Sunday. The event was created by Mike Coleman, a firefighter and engineer with Southern Marin Fire Protection District, and made possible through collaboration with bike shops, fire departments and other groups across Northern California who collected new and used bikes over the past couple months. In all, Coleman said, they were prepared to give out up to 700 bikes, plus helmets and water bottles, to anyone with an address inside the 137-square-mile Sonoma County burn zone.

Coleman in the past has done bike drives for low-income Marin County residents, he said. Unable to fight the October fires because of an ankle injury, he was looking for a way he could still help. A Cal Fire captain approached him with the idea of a bike drive for fire victims.

“Never in my mind would I have ever thought it would be this big,” Coleman said. “(It takes) a lot of grease to make the wheel turn, and it’s pretty cool. It’s a lot of work, and at the end of the day the smile on the kids’ faces makes it worth it.”

Outside the winery warehouse Sunday morning, Dulce Soto gave her new pink Schwinn a spin. Unlike her last bike, this one has no handlebar streamers, but it does have gears - a new challenge for the girl.

And the seat was a little too high, but her dad leaned in to lower it.

Her mother Patricia, Soto, 45, picked up a bike, too, so she and her daughter can ride together.

Dulce Soto’s plans for the afternoon were set. She flashed a grin: “I’m gonna try to ride it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205.

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