Community supports one another 1 week after Petaluma fire

One week after fire ripped through a Petaluma neighborhood, the recovery effort surprises even the people who organized it.

"I think the first day we got $2800," Jessica Tew told KTVU, outside the US Bank where she is branch manager, and overseeing a relief fund for fire victims.

Four homes are red-tagged, and fenced off.

10 more were damaged, and some are still too smoky to sleep in.

The fund-raising is aimed at minimizing the out-of-pocket expenses for the fourteen households affected. 

"Time has just stopped, it feels like it just happened yesterday," victim Bill Folla told KTVU, in the living room of this ruined house.

"Pretty much from the ceiling up is fire, everything below is smoke and water," he observed.

Folla's home of 35 years is a total loss.

It ignited, like the others, when a cigarette tossed from a vehicle on Highway 101, caught a grove of eucalyptus trees on fire, which spread to backyards and roofs.

In the day after the fire, the charred mess on Stuart street was a bit of a local spectacle.

"Lots of people came here," said Folla, "and I think most of Petaluma drove down the street."

People didn't just look, they gave.

"Clothing, toys, bedding, toiletries, " neighbor Eugenia Andrade told KTVU, showing multiple piles of donations collected in her house.

They arrived in a steady stream until she ran out of space to put it all. 

"Every time I would walk down the street to give people some of the donations, I'd come back to more boxes in front of my door," said Andrade, "and gathering little things just makes people feel better, it says Hey we're thinking about you."

The spontaneous effort began, the night of the fire, with the creation of a Facebook group called "Helping Petaluma".

It is a clearing house for volunteers and donations and , with no percentage deducted for administration, every cent collected at the bank goes to victims.    

"I had a sweet little six-year-old boy come in yesterday and empty his piggy bank on my counter," described Tew, showing hundreds of dollars in retail gift cards also donated.

"Now we're in this huge project, which we didn't really expect, but it's been great," admitted Tew, noting the total contributed, in less than a week, tops $8,000.

"I'm surprised how quick it was, but this community is so wonderful, I wouldn't expect anything less, " enthused Tew.

The first check cut went to Bill Folla for his $1,000 deductible on his homeowners coverage.

"It's very heartwarming to know there are people out there, willing to help, total strangers," said Folla.

Homeowners expect rebuilding to take six month to a year.

"It's not their problem, we're neighbors, so it's our problem, " another organizer Bruce Cohn told KTVU.

My vision, after this fire thing is taken care of, our Helping Petaluma page won't go away," he added, " because other stuff's going to happen in Petaluma, and when it does, we'll be here to take care of them."

Donations can be made at any US Bank to the account "Helping Petaluma."

Non-cash donations are on hold temporarily as the group looks for donated storage space to collect items the families will need later.