1 Year Later: Coffey Park neighbors gather together

About 500 people gathered in Coffey Park Tuesday evening, to remember what was lost and look forward to what's ahead. 

"It is so beautiful to be together here tonight," said Mike Baker, addressing the crowd. "There is no where else I'd rather be on this anniversary."

Baker lost his home on Keoke Court. Almost everyone at the remembrance lost their homes too, in the ferocious Tubbs Fire that blew across a 6 lane freeway last October 9 to devour the 1980's era subdivision. 

"We made it this far," Coffey Strong President Pamela Van Halsema told the audience.
A man's voice shouted back: "We're Coffey Park!"

The one hour event, featuring remarks, poetry and music, is one of many in the North Bay, marking the anniversary of the devastating firestorms that ravaged the North Bay on October 8-9, 2017.

More than 1,300 homes in Coffey Park were destroyed, Nettie Randol's among them. 

"This is where our roots are, literally," Randol told KTVU, "and I just found out about it and got in the car and came over."

Randol joined others in writing personal messages of hope on ribbons and tying them to a decorative house. 

Her ribbon bore her name, along with her husbands' and three daughters', and the message "Home is where our hearts are."

"This is wonderful," Randol said, "and I didn't think I would get choked up but I am."

It took four months for the first hammer to fall, but by summer Coffey Park was humming with construction.

About 20 homes are completed, with almost 500 rebuilds underway. 

"When we drove out of this driveway, we thought we'd have a cup of coffee at the shelter, and then come on back," recalled fire survivor LuAnn Scally, outside her Crimson Lane lot.  

At the one year mark - exactly - LuAnn and husband Jim were bowled over to find their new foundation had been poured.     

"To have this happen on the day of our anniversary, nothing else matters," enthused Jim. 
The Scallys raised two sons in their home of 28 years. 

Nothing could prepare them for losing it, and they admit it's been a year of emotional ups and downs. 
"I call it the fire-breathing dragon," said Jim Scally, "and it took me seven or eight months to finally realize I could take the power away from the dragon."

As LuAnn looks back: "Family and friends gave gotten us through, no question about it." 
One turning point was the miracle of their cat, Earl, showing up safe 21 days after the fire.

"It was huge, absolutely unbelievable," smiled LuAnn, "and that was hope, real hope, that we should never give up hope on anything." 
Finding their new foundation still soft, the couple hurried to press a religious medallion- a gift- into the concrete. 

It will be invisible at the threshold of their front door, to bring the new home protection.   
"We both promised the house that we would bring it back, we said we have to," explained Jim. 
"It took care of us for 28 years, so we needed to do this."

That was the hopeful spirit driving the Coffey Park gathering. 

It is a neighborhood more united than ever. 

"Before, you might know the neighbor next door, " said Coffey Strong leader Jeff Okrepkie, " but now you know people five or six blocks away, a mile away, and you hang out, you converse, and you socialize with those people."  

Coffey Strong began as a social network to swap tips on rentals and insurance, contractors and permits. 

Now it is equal parts support group and planning organization, as it charts a path toward neighborhood revitalization. 

After the event, luminarias with personal messages written on them lined the sidewalk at Coffey Lane and Hopper Avenue.

"I like my Coffey Strong," read one of them, from a neighborhood where Coffey Strong is more than a slogan, it's an inspiration. 

"We as a community can suffer together, and can be sad together, as well as be strong together," said Van Halsema. 

Newly planted cherry trees also line a walkway, dedicated to five women from the area who perished in the fire.

Their names were read aloud, as a bell was rung.