One Year Later, Heroes of October Wildfires Honored in Sonoma County - NBC Bay Area
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One Year Later, Heroes of October Wildfires Honored in Sonoma County

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    An American flag flies at a heroes ceremony marking a year since the North Bay wildfires. (Sept. 30, 2018)

    It's been nearly a year since deadly wildfires devastated North Bay communities. But they also spotlighted the best of humanity.

    In Sonoma County on Sunday, 10 unsung heroes of the fires were honored during a ceremony at the old courthouse square.

    A fire bell tolled 24 times, once for each of the lives lost in the fires that sparked Oct. 8, 2017. While so many of the stories and memories were horrifying or tragic, some were truly heroic.

    "While we reflect on tough memories this week, it’s also important to include the good ones, the way neighbors and friends flocked to save lives," U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman said.

    "Heroes of October" was the theme of the day that honored ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Juvenile correctional counselor James Wolter Jr. was one of those people. He led 40 kids to safety, even as his own home burned and his own family narrowly escaped.

    "It was a little nerve wracking, being torn two different ways, family at home, 40 kids I gotta deal with," Wolter said. "It really didn’t hit me until we had the kids checked in over at Solano County. Then I kind of broke down."

    Frankie Arroyo, a security guard who spotted flames approaching the Hilton Hotel, was another honoree Sunday. He knocked on every door to make sure all 150 guests got to safety. And he was the last man out.

    "I feel like anybody in that position would have done the same thing," Arroyo said. "Everybody, when there’s a tragic thing happening, everybody should step up to the plate."

    Jennifer Petruska, who organized the rescue of hundreds of cats, was another Hero of October. She even climbed down into a manhole to rescue a cat trapped for three weeks.

    "It was horrible," she recalled. "It took me six hours to get him out. He was really starved, one of the thinnest cats I’ve ever seen."

    Each of the 10 heroes received a plaque from radio station KSRO, a certificate of congressional recognition and many heartfelt thanks from a very grateful community.

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