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A Time for Giving

After the fires, North Bay residents turned to crowdfunding—and their needs continue.


The Shepherd family

(1 of 14) 

One of the Eritrean families

(2 of 14) 

Sia and Ayinema Yambire

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Lilly Biagini

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Jesse Apgar

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Giraffes at Safari West

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The Wade's house

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Ammishaddai Israel

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Macy and Ben Huggins

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Mei Chen and Joe Chang

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Stacey Arnold and Andrew Davidson

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The Catrambone family

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Elysa, Michael, and Samantha Perry

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Aarne and Rita Bielefeldt

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In the days that followed the firestorm, they appeared, one by one, like leaflets pinned to a corkboard. “There was little time to evacuate.” “They weren’t able to grab anything, and all was lost.” “The home he left Sunday early morning is burned, all possessions gone.” Each of the pleas bore the same message: “Help.” Posted by neighbors, family members, coworkers, and, in some cases, complete strangers, the fundraising campaigns on sites like GoFundMe, YouCaring, and Plumfund have numbered in the hundreds. They asked the giving public for anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000, and many fulfilled their goals within days. But many are still far from their fundraising targets. (Figures are current as of November 6.) Here are some of their stories.

Shepherd family, Redwood Valley
Goal: $100,000
Raised: $23,499 
Their Story: Devastatingly, the Shepherds’ 14-year-old son, Kai, and 17-year-old daughter, Kressa, died after their car caught fire, forcing them to evacuate from the Redwood Valley fire on foot from their home in rural Mendocino. Their father, Jon, and mother, Sara, were also badly burned. Donations will pay for ongoing medical care, housing, and memorial services.

Eritrean families, Santa Rosa
Goal: $20,000
Raised: $25,370  
Their Story: Many fled the civil wars of Eritrea; some landed in Santa Rosa, where eight Eritrean families lost homes in the Tubbs fire, says Sawait Hezchias-Seyoum, whose mother lives there. “We’re not new to loss or pain,” Hezchias-Seyoum says. “But I don’t think anything can quite prepare someone for this—losing your home, memories, everything.”

Sia and Ayinema Yambire, Santa Rosa
Goal: $5,000
Raised: $5,946  
Their Story: Sia Yambire came to the United States from Ghana, making a living selling baskets woven by members of his tribe. He shared a bunk bed in a small apartment in Coffey Park with his daughter, Ayinema. Around 2 a.m., she saw fire. They fled, but their apartment building and Yambire’s work van were destroyed. Since then, Ayinema has repeatedly woken during the night, convinced she was seeing another fire. “Last night was the first night she didn’t wake up during the night,” he said in late October.

Lilly Biagini, Santa Rosa
Goal: $100,000
Raised: $75,485  
Her Story: Nine-year-old Lilly Biagini was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita and uses prostheses to run, swim, and ride horses. She and her mother, Jessica, evacuated their Santa Rosa home the night of the Tubbs fire, leaving Lilly’s custom prosthetic legs and her wheelchair behind. Donations will pay for her living and health expenses. (She received a donation of new prostheses.)

Jesse Apgar, Glen Ellen
Goal: $25,000
Raised: $27,050  
His Story: Apgar, a volunteer firefighter, got a call that winds had blown the fire toward the 4600 block of Cavedale Road in Glen Ellen, where he lives. “My father and I, in the same fire truck, went to our home and attempted to save it,” he says. Apgar’s house was destroyed, although his father’s is still standing.

Safari West employees, Santa Rosa
Goal: $50,000
Raised $53,050  
Their Story: Peter and Nancy Lang had to choose between protecting their home and saving their animals. All of the animals survived. Although the fires were frightening, the animals seemed to shake off the experience. But roads leading to Safari West remained closed for weeks following the Tubbs fire, and donations will provide rent, clothing, and other necessities for 11 employees who lost their homes.

Kristin and Ben Wade, Santa Rosa
Goal: $10,000
Raised: $10,647  
Their Story: Kristin Wade’s brother, Josef, and sister-in-law, Christina Satu Kujanpää, know what it’s like to flee from a disaster. They live in Houston and, just weeks earlier, escaped Hurricane Harvey. Their house survived, but Kristin and Ben’s burned to the ground. Ben says he’s been surprised by how many people have donated to the fundraiser organized by his family in Houston. “It means more than the money.”

Ammishaddai Israel, Santa Rosa
Goal: $20,000
Raised: $15,828 
Her Story: Ammishaddai Israel and her children were part of the famed Love Israel commune on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill. In 2008, Ammishaddai landed along with her two youngest daughters in Santa Rosa. Ammishaddai said her home is now “leveled, nothing is left.”

Macy and Ben Huggins, Santa Rosa
Goal: $30,000
Raised: $22,167 
Their Story: Macy Huggins was two days past her due date when the Tubbs fire swept through her Santa Rosa home. The hospital where she’d planned to give birth was closed, so the couple found a hotel in Roseville. Macy went into labor on Friday, October 13, and gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Saturday at 8:13 a.m. They named her—appropriately enough—Hope.

Mei Chen and Joe Chang, Santa Rosa
Goal: $10,000
Raised: $37,170 
Their Story: Mei and Joe lived in New York during 9/11 and in Texas when 2008’s Hurricane Ike swept through. “Where the kids go to school, 25 percent of families lost their homes. That’s why we’re staying,” Mei says. “We want to let the kids go through this together.”

Cardinal Newman High School, Santa Rosa
Goal: $10,000
Raised: $5,846 
The Story: Cardinal Newman, a Catholic high school that opened its doors in 1964, was significantly damaged in the Tubbs fire. “After all this school has given me, I want to help as much as I can,” writes alumnus Matt Ostheimer, who organized the fundraiser. “I want future generations, such as my sister, a freshman, to not see this as the end of an era, but watch the community rally around their school.”

Stacey Arnold and Andrew Davidson, Santa Rosa
Goal: $5,000
Raised: $0
Their Story: Stacey Arnold and her fiancé, Andrew Davidson, work at Paradise Ridge Winery, where the couple was planning to be married in November. The Tubbs fire completely destroyed the winery, leaving them without jobs or a venue. Their friend Jaime Woicicki started the fundraiser for them, hoping to help them find a new venue and make their wedding dreams come true.

Aarne and Rita Bielefeldt, Willits
Goal: $20,000
Raised: $7,549  
Their Story: Aarne’s beard won an award at this year’s World Beard and Moustache Championships; Bryan Nelson, vice president of the association, set up a fundraiser to replace a barn, a workshop, and other structures he lost in the fire.

Ed Corn, Santa Rosa
Goal: $20,000
Raised: $1,650 
His Story: Ed Corn and his disabled roommate spent four hours shielding themselves from flames by hiding behind redwood trees in Coffey Park. Donations will cover Corn’s food and housing and replace gardening tools and a car.

The Catrambone family, Glen Ellen
Goal: $25,000
Raised: $22,680 
Their Story: Jeremy and Tatum Catrambone’s youngest son, Dalton, is undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Although in remission, he still requires regular treatment. Tatum quit her job to care for him, making Jeremy the sole breadwinner. The family have known their landlord for years, and he offered them an extraordinary opportunity: “After we rebuild, he’ll sell us the house,” Jeremy says. “We’ve never owned a home before.”

Brian, Riley, and Colin Burke, Santa Rosa
Goal: $20,000
Raised: $22,826 
Their Story: In the days after the fire, Brian Burke returned to the site of his home, hoping to find a safe he kept in his garage. With some help, he was able to pry it open. Much of the contents had been destroyed, but not the wedding ring he’d given to his wife, Kate, who died five years ago. It is now the only memento he has left from their marriage.

Mike Turner, Santa Rosa
Goal: $10,000
Raised: $11,825  
His Story: Mike Turner runs the Marin Coastal Bee Company in Santa Rosa; his home and business were lost in the Tubbs fire. His brother, Brooke Halsey, writes, “If you have had him come to your house to service a beehive, tasted the honey he collects, or called him when a swarm has invaded your home, you know that he is there for you.”

Elysa, Michael, and Samantha Perry, Santa Rosa
Goal: $30,000
Raised: $2,388  
Their Story: Several of Sonoma County’s political leaders lost their homes, including Michael Perry, chief deputy public defender for Sonoma County, whose home in the woods of Bennett Valley was destroyed in the Tubbs fire. Donations will help the Perrys put their lives together again.

Odin the Dog, Santa Rosa
Goal: $45,000
Raised: $83,140  
His Story: Odin, a Great Pyrenees dog owned by the Hendel family, takes his herding seriously. When Roland, Ariel, Scott, and Stephen evacuated, Odin refused to leave the family’s eight rescue goats behind. The Hendels left without him and grieved the certain loss of Odin and the goats. “I was sure I had sentenced them to a horrific and agonizing death,” writes Roland Hendel. The family returned days later to find their property largely destroyed, but they also found Odin, his fur burned and his whiskers singed, protecting the goats, along with several small deer whom he had kept safe. Donations will provide for the animals and rebuild the barn.

Mike and Angela Rode, Napa
Goal: $20,000
Raised: $20,510 
Their Story: As a marine, Mike Rode was called to active duty after 9/11 and served in the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Rode’s family woke around 10 p.m. to the sound of fire and evacuated with little time to spare. But as they fled, they knocked on neighbors’ doors to make sure they knew to leave, too. The Rodes’ home was completely destroyed. Mike fought to “protect our freedoms,” writes his brother, Jim, “and now it’s time for us to come to aid our Marine and his family.”

Austin and Melissa Lely, Glen Ellen
Goal: $25,000
Raised: $16,068 
Their Story: Austin and Melissa fell in love at Chico State University and settled in Glen Ellen to raise herds of cattle and sheep and flocks of chickens and to grow produce. Although the young couple’s house is gone and their truck is melted, all of their animals remained safe during the fire. Donations will help them reconstruct their home and farm and buy a new truck to bring their animals and produce to market.


Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco

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