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‘So heartwarming’: Healdsburg residents celebrate belated Halloween after Kincade fire evacuations

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Dozens of firefighters — both big and small — came to downtown Healdsburg on Friday for a belated Halloween celebration to welcome hundreds of evacuated residents home.

Rick Mercer took his two grandkids, who dressed up as firefighters, to the event. Three-year-old Richard and 5-year-old Annabel live in Healdsburg with their family, and were forced to evacuate when the 77,758-acre Kincade fire threatened their town.

“They kind of missed their Halloween because of the fire,” Mercer said. “(This is us) getting back to a little normalcy.”

Mercer, who lives in Geyserville, took photos of Richard and Annabel posing with local firefighters in Healdsburg Plaza. His grandchildren decided on their costumes before the blaze because of their firefighting uncle, who helped save their home during the Kincade fire.

Mercer and his family were among the hundreds of community members who came to Healdsburg Plaza on Friday afternoon for the town’s “Welcome Home, Healdsburg” celebration. Local firefighters and businesses handed out candy to trick-or-treating kids, and families gathered in the plaza for face-painting, games and the live band.

Lily Nieto, 12, came to the plaza with a friend. During the Kincade fire, she evacuated with her family to Sebastopol, and then evacuated again to San Francisco. She didn’t get to go trick-or-treating on Halloween.

“It’s nice that everybody wants to do this,” Nieto said of the celebration.

Nieto dressed up as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who her math teacher loves. After her teacher lost her home in the Kincade fire, Nieto wanted to do something nice for her and decided to dress up as her idol.

The event wasn’t just for kids — many adults came out, some dressed in costume, to greet friends they hadn’t seen since the fire.

“I wanted to share in the joy that Healdsburg is back,” said Bruce Cousins, who dressed up as a disco ball. “It reinvigorates everybody. It reminds us that we have a community.”

Samantha Bustamante, the assistant manager at Rete, a clothing store in downtown Healdsburg that participated in the event, said the celebration also gave everyone the chance to thank the first responders “because they saved this town.”

Many residents shared this sentiment, holding up signs that said “Thank you first responders” and “Thank you to our heroes.”

Chris Munsell, an engineer with the Geyserville Fire Protection District, said he received hugs from many residents who thanked him for his service.

“It’s kind of a cathartic thing to get together and celebrate,” Munsell said of the event. “Having people be so appreciative and thankful for what we do is very satisfying.”

Later in the evening, Mayor David Hagele went up on the stage in the plaza to welcome residents home, calling the view of all his community members “so heartwarming.” He, along with Assemblymember Jim Wood of Santa Rosa and state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, again thanked the first responders for fighting the Kincade fire.

“We are here tonight talking about the future of Healdsburg because of them,” McGuire said of the first responders, eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd. “Welcome home, Healdsburg!”

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