It’s the story of so many who lost their homes in the fires that raged across the North Coast last month: what to grab in so little time?
It was the story, too, for 56-year-old Brett Gripe, who had lived with his wife, Cheryl, in the same Mark West Estates home for 30 years before the Tubbs fire burned it to the ground.
With his wife on a trip to Los Angeles and their 24-year-old son away at school, it was up to him to grab the few things he could when friends came pounding at his door early the morning of Oct. 9, urging him to evacuate.
“I was luckier than some people,” said the retired Novato Police Department detective. “I called my wife in LA, and she said grab this drawer and grab this drawer. Don’t sort through them — just get out.”
And so he did, leaving behind a trove of items the hobbyist historian had collected through the years, including police badges, family heirlooms and, of course, photographs.
The Gripes, along with their dog Major, are among 72 families who will seek to have some of those memories replaced during a photo shoot pulled together by a group of Sonoma County photographers out to do some good this holiday season.
The event, to be held at Luther Burbank Home & Gardens during the beginning of December, will feature some 18 photographers photographing fire victims in portrait sessions around the grounds.
All 72 spaces for families have been filled, but the group is still looking for about six more professional portrait photographers to bring into the fold, said Mimi Carroll, a photographer and retired special education consultant, who organized the event.
“When you lose your home, you lose your pictures,” she said. “Quite a few of my friends have lost all their baby pictures. ... It’s such a major thing that’s missing. Other people told me it’s not time yet to do it because people are still dealing with so much else, but ... we contacted the three school districts most heavily impacted by this, and they sent out a flyer and we were full within a day.”
The event is a version of what this same group of photographers has done previously in reaching out to local homeless shelters to create professional portraits for job seekers. This year, Carroll said, it was the group’s consensus it should shift focus.
“I’m a person that loves photographs, loves history, whether it’s your family history or history of the town or the country,” said Brett Gripe, who works as a volunteer docent at the Luther Burbank home. “So it’s so wonderful to get some more photos — and some great quality photos — from a professional photographer.
“Luckily, these photos we’ll be able to have the rest of our lives, and we’ll be able to pass them down.”
The Supingers are another of the several dozen families participating in the photo shoot. The family of four lost the Coffey Park home they purchased in 2013.
Luckily, said Summer Supinger, 39, their family is young and most of their photos were already digitized.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here