North Bay rallies to make sure Halloween is a happy occasion

- Halloween may seem insignificant with everything North Bay fire victims are dealing with right now. 

But not for the kids.

And Friday evening, the community rallied to make sure trick or treat goes on. 

"Just to have fun, just get away from the reality we've had over the last three weeks," Santa Rosa Police Captain Ray Navarro said while surveying a crowded, boisterous scene at the Santa Rosa Christian Church on Pacific Avenue. 

For four hours, fire survivors, and anyone else who needed a free costume, chose among thousands of ones donated from all over the Bay Area and the state. 

SRPD organized the costume drive, so that children in the fire zones would have costumes, and so it would be as easy as possible on their parents.

"It's kind of our 1906 and we're definitely going to remember this," said Capt. Navarro, who has observed, since the fire, a tighter bond. "We need to work together. We're not a police department and the public. We're one community.”

Among those selecting a costume was nine-year-old Sascha Humphrey, who recalled the truly frightful night when the only home she's known disappeared along with everything else familiar.   

"I remember that I was really confused and scared," Humphrey said. "And I didn't want to leave my home, but I knew that I had to do it for safety."

Humphrey, with her mom, dad, and teenage brother, first tried to drive out of Coffey Park, but their car became stuck in gridlocked traffic.

"My husband was watching homes explode and burst into flames behind us, so he made the decision that we needed to abandon our car and run away on foot," said Colleen Teitgen, Humphrey’s mother.

They joined hands and ran, trying to flag down cars, until finally climbing into the back of a stranger's pickup truck.  

"We felt like we were living in a movie," Teitgen said, "Because it felt so surreal and it still does."  

In the ashes of their home, the family found a ceramic bowl in the shape of a heart, that their son Kalen made as a kindergartner.

The family has been staying with relatives in Marin County, but this week moved in with Santa Rosa friends so the children can attend school while they look for a rental.

Eleven Santa Rosa schools resumed Friday for the first time since the fire on Oct 8.

Thirteen more schools will reopen Monday, with counselors on hand to help students with stress or trauma.

"Whether their house survived or not, maybe their neighbors didn't, and just driving through the neighborhoods, is really hard," said Girl Scout Troop Leader Karen Hancock.

Her Troop 10064 is from the Bennett Valley area, which was threatened by the Nunns Fire, and under mandatory evacuation for a bit time. Dozens of homes on Bennett Ridge were destroyed. 

The 18 Girl Scouts collected hundreds of costumes on their own and helped hand them out at the giveaway.
Hancock said it was their first time together as a troop since the fire, and the volunteerism seemed uplifting.  

"I'm hearing from moms that a lot of them are having difficulty coping, just understanding what's happened, even nightmares," Hancock said. "So there's a lot of emotion, and this is a good step in the healing process – a way for them to feel helpful and be empowered." 
 

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