Most of us went about our day Saturday unaware that close by, history was being made in the realm of community caring and human (and canine) kindness.
In dozens of driveways, most of them in Santa Rosa, people who lost their homes to the firestorms helped themselves, at no cost, to all manner of furnishings, clothes, small appliances, toys and such.
It might have well have been the world’s first post-disaster garage non-sale, the brainchild of personal trainer and yoga teacher Diane Madero.
She encouraged people to gather up nice things and set them out for fire victims who are setting up housekeeping in temporary or permanent residence and are starting from scratch.
People from far and wide donated items. In several neighborhoods, residents saw what was going on and quickly set up a table or two on their driveways and piled them up with possessions they were happy to see go to folks starting over after the disaster.
Photographer Jed Manwaring, who lives near Memorial Hospital, fielded a great deal of gratitude from the people who helped themselves to bedding, kitchenware, music CDs, clothing and other items that he and Brenda Tharp, set out.
On Saturday afternoon, Manwaring asked a man who lost to the flames his work tools and nearly everything he owned, “How are you doing?”
“You know what?” replied the client of the all-free garage sale. “A lot better after today.”
THE OTHER FIRST that happened in Santa Rosa on Saturday was the search for cremation ashes that six dog-and-handler teams conducted at the sites of 23 burned homes.
Archaeologists accompanied and assisted the search teams from the nonprofit Institute for Canine Forensics. The volunteers were happy to travel to Santa Rosa from throughout the Bay Area and beyond to help people who had in their now-destroyed homes the ashes of parents, siblings, children or other family members.
“They’ve lost their loved ones twice,” said Lynne Engelbert, the handler of a specially trained border collie named Piper and the leader of Saturday’s large recovery mission. She added, “This was something we had no idea there was a need for.”
The dogs and the handlers and archaeologists found cremation ashes at the remains of every home they searched on Saturday.
“They found my mother’s ashes and my brothers,” Jim McLaughlin said at the ruins of his house off Riebli Road.
“Those dogs are amazing.”
A SILVER LINING to the fire destruction at St. Rose School, off Old Redwood Highway north of Santa Rosa, is the return of children to the fine, old original St. Rose School downtown.
“We have students whose parents and grandparents were educated in our original building and now the students are walking the same hallways,” says Kathy Ryan, the principal of St. Rose.
The private Catholic school moved 1985 to the new campus to the north of town, near the also-damaged Cardinal Newman High School. Until St. Rose is repaired, students will attend classes in the old school building on 10th St. and in adjacent portable classrooms.
Ryan said the temporary move “hasn’t been easy for our students, parents, or teachers, but they have all risen to the occasion.”