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BJ Blanchard: Notes from Glen Ellen, Nov. 3

Jill Dawson gives her neighbor Steve Lee two thumbs up as she and her husband Arthur dig through the rubble of their burned home on Warm Springs Rd on Sunday, October 22, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California . (BETH SCHLANKER/The Press Democrat)

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We knew it was OK by the pink ribbons. Pink ribbons with black polka dots tied to a branch, a mail box, a utility pole. Tied by a stranger from Siskiyou or Tahoe or Arizona who had cleared our neighborhoods of embers, broken power lines, looters, and then left the ribbon to notify each other that this neighborhood, at least, was clear for return. Thank you.

But 25 percent of our town was not OK, and so here we are. We are learning to live without David Bouverie’s Preserve, Judge Justi’s Wells Fargo barn, the Regional Park, and the precious histories of over 50 families.

This in part, is how Glen Ellen coped during the fire. Jim Hughes, a contractor living on Riddle Road, stayed inside the evacuation zone to help out. When he cleaned out the fridge of his neighbors, Shannon and Isaac Vargas, he got a surprise. He texted Shannon that the frozen meat compartment of her fridge was particularly smelly, and sorry, some of the blood seeped on the kitchen floor. “Oh” texted mama Shannon, “that must be the placentas!” She had carefully saved her children’s placentas, packed and labeled in Ziploc bags. Jim was able to retrieve them, and re-refrigerate them in a generator-powered cooler.

Sonia and Jaz Baweja of the Glen Ellen Grocery (as distinct from the Glen Ellen Market), gave away their inventory. Arriving at their store early Monday, they threw open the doors and said “Grab anything you need – juice, water, cookies, candy, sandwiches, Rockstars,” they offered. Sonia even threw bags of cookies up into outstretched hands on fire engines screaming past on the way to fire.

There are pockets of neighbors in Glen Ellen who quietly tend their newly-legal cannabis crops. Many stayed behind and found themselves fighting the oncoming flames along with firefighters. When Nils Derickson and his giant dozer came in to cut a fire line below the ridge above, Gibson, Marco, Chris and friends grabbed shovels, hoes, and rakes to smash raining cinders and flareups leaping across the fire line into dry grass. They are considering joining the fire service when everything settles down.

When Susie and Andrew Pryfogle self-evacuated from Garric Avenue that Monday dawn, they put their Tri-Tip Trolley into first gear and drove straight to the CalFire station on Highway 12 opposite Bouverie. Ari Weiswasser of the Glen Ellen Star climbed aboard and together they served thousands of gourmet meals to frontline firefighters. Chipotle burritos and Tri-tip sandos were freely given to anyone who stoped by – PG&E, CHP, Fish and Wildlife, Sheriff deputies, and firefighting people. Crates of bananas, cartons of soda, baskets of vetables, bags of beef arrived unbidden, and the smell of gourmet burritos permeated the CalFire station.

And the human spirit responds with thousands of generous offers to help. Ed Davis is matching empty vacation rentals with families who have lost homes on his Facebook site called “Keep them in Sonoma Valley – Homes for Fire Victims.” A family on Warm Springs Road is putting up trailers on their property for three families. A couple further up are parking an RV on their lot for a single man. Offers of furniture, clothes, gift cards, are coming from all directions.

A free community meal occurs this weekend, Sunday Nov. 5. Glen Ellen, come together to share fire stories, accept a hug, vent, laugh, cry, share with your neighbors. Just show up from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., in the Garden Court Café parking lot. In case of rain, the dinner moves over to the Mayflower Hall at the Community Church on O’Donnell Lane. Organized by the newly formed Glen Ellen Forum, this dinner marks the beginning of our new lives.

Glen Ellen creeks sometimes flood in the rainy season. Our grasslands burn in the fall... Have you checked your earthquake kit lately?

Contact BJ at BJ@mabco.com.