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Cleaning up the mess isn’t quick or easy, after a devil’s blowtorch of a wildfire renders a home and all its tangibles to a heap of ash, contorted wreckage and every coarseness of fired grit.

The piece of land on which Carol Ellen and Robin Voet lived, and will live again, on Parker Hill Road has repeatedly been scraped of debris.

Lately, Empire Contracting has had an excavator remove and haul away fine rubble and soil in preparation for the laying of a new foundation. The other day, Ellen was speaking at the site with foreman Brent Mason when that man’s eyes turned to the small drift of dirt and wildfire dust at his feet.

“He looked down and he bent over and picked something up,” Ellen said.

It was a horseshoe. The tears that rushed to Ellen’s eyes surprised her.

...

It wasn’t as though the horseshoe, which Ellen instantly recognized, was some deeply, sentimentally significant heirloom or gift or memento. But she’d had it for a couple of decades and at some point after Oct. 9 she’d mentally inventoried it among the many things in her life that were vaporized or hauled to a toxic dump.

An equestrian, Ellen said that while on a trip to New York state she’d made a point of visiting the Saratoga Racetrack.

She’s no fan of horse racing. She objects to how the animals are treated, but she wanted to see the track at Saratoga Springs because of its historic nature: It hosted its first thoroughbred meet in 1863, a month after the Battle of Gettysburg.

While touring the track’s stables and training area, Ellen noticed a horseshoe on the ground. She asked if she could keep it and was told she could.

Ellen and her wife, Voet, lived at the time in Laguna Beach. Ellen hung the horseshoe on a nail in the garage.

When she and Voet moved to San Juan Capistrano, they took along the horseshoe and mounted on the garage wall at the new place. Ditto when they bought the house on Parker Hill Road, not far off Fountaingrove Parkway, in 2007.

The night of the Tubbs fire, the horseshoe was about the last thing on Ellen and Voet’s minds. They believe they might well have perished had their front door not been one of the 20 or so that neighbor Ralph Casale banged on.

Casale survived his valiant mission to awaken neighbors but his family lost their family’s home. And 18 days ago, amid the stress of trying to get a mortgage company to release money for rebuilding the house, Casale, 52, collapsed and died at a Santa Rosa fitness center.

...

Gratitude to Casale and sorrow for him and for all victims of the Tubbs fire and its aftermath may bubble up every time Carol Ellen and Robin Voet look at the horseshoe they’re amazed to hold again 10 months and several debris scrapings after the disaster.

“It is my good-luck charm now,” Ellen said.

She and Voet count their blessings at having been helped to safely escape the fire, then quickly finding a rental that they can use while they’re in reconstruction.

When move-in day arrives, the couple won’t be hanging that old, heat-scarred horseshoe from Saratoga on a nail in the garage.

“I plan to have it framed,” Ellen said. Framed, and displayed prominently in the new home.

You can contact columnist Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com

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