Treasured photos found in wine country fires ash, reunited with couple who lost home

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A couple who thought they lost everything in the wine country fires is now learning that precious treasures were scattered around the North Bay. 

Susi and Fred Hulac of the Coffey Park neighborhood woke up to heavy winds overnight Sunday. "I thought something was brewing," Susi told KTVU. 

She ran outside with her husband to gather up garbage cans that had tipped over. That's when they smelled the smoke. A few minutes later someone was pounding on their door saying they had to evacuate. 

Susi grabbed their cat, her kids' graduation photos and a photo of her parents before the couple headed to their neighbor's house. They helped their disabled neighbor, Colleen, out of her house and into Susi's car. Fred and Susi started driving to Petaluma in separate cars, thinking they would be returning home later. "We live in a suburb, with a fire station and fire hydrants, we expected our home would be OK," said Susi.

As they drove away the reality of the situation sunk in as embers rained down from the sky. Susi had to pull over because the visibility was so bad. "I couldn't see anything, it was so scary." It took the trio 45 minutes to travel one block. 

They eventually arrived at Colleen's relative's home in Petaluma where they stayed overnight. In the process they learned they had likely lost their home. 

Fred remembers watching a KTVU reporter covering the destruction on a nearby street. He was able to drive to his property the next morning and see that everything was gone.

The couple, who describes themselves as strong Christians, says they don't care about "stuff." They are lucky to be alive and believe that this is part of God's plan.  

A few days later their daughter called Susi and Fred with unbelievable news. "She said 'someone has your wedding photos. They have them on Facebook,'" said Susi. As time went on the Hulacs learned multiple people found some of their family photos. "There are about four sets of them."

The couple, who has been married for 33 years, learned some of their treasured photos had been swept up in ash and relocated to different areas in the North Bay.

"So when all these photos are showing up they just touch my heart - there are blessings out there if you choose to hang on and our response is a choice and to be humble and realize that there is nothing that can beat us. Nothing. You've got family and friends... we're just happy to be alive and move on," said Susi. 

The Hulacs say they are fortunate people found the photos and decided to post them online. "The hope and the joy that comes from people finding things everywhere and pictures and it matters so much."

Lauren Bianchi and her daughter Natalie found one of the Hulac's wedding photos in Santa Rosa. The photo was found mostly intact with its edges burnt to a crisp.  

Bianchi said she has felt so helpless in these fires as she knows so many families who have lost their homes. She wanted to reunite the photo with the couple pictured. "It is just irreplaceable it feels good to help in some way I'm struggling so much," she said. 

Bianchi and the Hulacs are planning to meet so the couple can be reunited with their precious photo. 

The Hulacs say they are remaining positive and hope to be a source of encouragement to others struggling in this tragedy. 

"To some people night time is the hardest and your thoughts prevail - as long as you know nothing will destroy me because I'm a survivor and nothing can stop us. We're going to be stronger for this. We hope to be a source of encouragement for those really struggling," said Fred.

He adds that everyone has a different timeframe for grieving, and this is the time for everyone to come together and help each other move forward.  

An online fundraiser was started for the Hulac family.