Halloween an afterthought in North Bay after fires, evacuations, blackouts

After a week of fire, fear, evacuations and blackouts, the North Bay tried to celebrate Halloween, largely overshadowed. 

In downtown Santa Rosa, the 12th annual Blind Scream Haunted House opened Thursday night, a few days late.

"We're happy to be able to provide some fun and a way to get people together," said manager Judy Groverman Walker, who manages the attraction at the Santa Rosa Plaza Mall. 

Walker wasn't sure if power or patrons would return, following so much turmoil.

She plans to make up for the late start by remaining open Friday and Saturday, from 7 to 10 pm. 

Another tradition, trick-or-treat in the Historic McDonald District, was packed with costumed children and adults.   

Victorian homes were decorated to the hilt, and Halloween throngs seemed similar to years past. 

The showpiece McDonald Mansion, of the Disney film "Pollyanna," may have been upstaged though, by a fire engine passing through.

The crowd erupted with applause and cheers, and the crew responded with enthusiastic honking. 

Appreciation for first responders was evident, after a hard-fought battle with Sonoma County's largest fire ever. 

"Windsor always been in its own vacuum, I consider it our little world, and we were saved," said Windsor Chamber of Commerce President Lorene Romero. 

Romero presided over a community giveaway Thursday: 100 bags of groceries, along with Halloween candy, pumpkins and candy.

The distribution was made possible by the non-profit Sonoma Family Meals, and Windsor's Raleys and WalMart Stores. 

"I want people to feel they can come home," said Romero, "and on Sunday, we're having a big party on the Town Green and that's going to be a welcome home celebration."

The Windsor event starts at 11 am, coinciding with the Farmers Market, and residents are encouraged to bring "Thank You" signs for a photo for first responders. 

There is still uncertainty, though, whether restaurants in the vicinity will be able to open. 

"No natural gas and no one will give us a solid answer why," said David Culley, owner of KC's American Kitchen, open for 14 years. "PG&E says it could be next week, it could be tomorrow, it could be whenever." 

Culley and his staff spent the day cleaning and sanitizing, hoping to reopen now that electricity has been restored and evacuations lifted. 

But even with the lights on, gas is needed to power the grill and heat water for dish-washing.  

So the community homecoming fell flat Culley and other local restaurateurs. 

"The whole town was welcoming people, everyone returning, and you've got this big dud," said Culley. 

PG&E turned off gas to more than 20,000 customers during the PSPS, and unlike electricity, restoring gas service requires a visit from a technician who must re-light the pilot light. 

It's a slow process, so Culley and others wait, with no income, after already losing thousands of dollars in food that had to be trashed.

The Dumpster behind his restaurant was overflowing with wasted foodstuffs.  

"It's a problem, there's no cash flow," said Culley, " so when this is over, people need to come here, please come and use your tourism dollars in Sonoma County."

November will be a difficult month for some, and community generosity helps ease the uncertainty. 

"I think every little bit helps, for everyone," said Anita Prado, who works in production at Coppola Winery in Geyserville. 

Her town was evacuated the first day of the Kincade Fire, and she returned home a week later to find her food inedible. 

"I haven't worked since last Thursday and we don't know if we're getting paid for all those days, but I hope we are," said Prado.   

She and other evacuees were at the Finley Center in Santa Rosa Thursday afternoon, to pick up donated food to replace what spoiled. 

By bag, box, and truckload, donations arrived and were quickly made available to those in need.  

"Kids were lined up around the corner dressed in their Halloween costumes waiting for food to take home," said Jennielynn Holmes of Catholic Charities, one of the non-profits partnering with the City of Santa Rosa on the food drive. 

"We have some stuff in the pantry but nothing is fresh, no eggs or no milk, so we can live, but not comfortably, and not with kids," said another participant James Bass of Larkfield.

The effort will continue Friday, at the Fire Department Training Tower, 2126 West College Avenue in Santa Rosa. 

Recipients are encouraged to bring their own bags or boxes to pick-up food, between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm. 

Donations are urgently needed at the same location, in the morning between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Perishable and non-perishable items are welcome, including dairy products, bread, condiments, salad dressing, juice and fresh fruit. 

"Anything you need in your fridge to feed your family, we're in need of those donations for individuals who lost their food," said Holmes," and milk and eggs are requested more than anything else." 

Volunteers are also needed on site to help with the giveaway effort.