Stephen Ellison

Bringing Lights, Holiday Cheer Back to Fire-Ravaged Neighborhood

One man in Sonoma County has taken it upon himself to bring holiday cheer back to a fire-ravaged Santa Rosa neighborhood one light at a time. And he has inspired a slew of followers.

The pictures of the flattened Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa are all too familiar, but there is something new about the most recent snapshots: lights hanging, decorated Christmas trees and stockings hung where homes have been burned to the ground.

It’s a dream come true for Ronnie Duvall, whose one wish is to bring hope where hope seems lost. It started with stringing lights around one pole about 17 days ago and has grown exponentionally since then.

"You already know what happened to the neighborhood," Duvall said. "There's not a lot of people coming through. Before all this happened, everybody use to decorate their houses with lights."

Duvall had made it his mission to raise this fire ravaged neighborhood from the ashes with holiday lights.

"I was afraid of the residents being turned off by the lights being here," he said. "That’s why I do it at night. Not like they would see me."

But Duvall found it difficult to continue to be invisible. He started out with 30 strings of lights, and that grew to 60. Now, there are too many to count.

"It’s been evolving magically," he said.

For Ben Hernandez, 2017 was a Christmas Eve to forget, until the blossoming of the tree decorations, which he says brought him something unexpected: Hope.

"I wasn’t planning on having one (a tree) this year, just too emotional," Hernandez said. "But thanks to Ronnie, we got our tree."

Coffey Park resident Travis Garrison, whose home was destroyed during the fire, said the lights are a welcome sight.

"It kind of gives people a positive reason to come back," he said. "There’s been so many negative reasons, coming back digging through the ashes."

Garrison recalled what his home looked like during the holidays before the fire. It brings him hope, the very hope Duvall wants to bring back to Coffey Park.

"This is a new life for me, to enjoy Christmas in a different way," Duvall said. "Now I have a lot of neighbors that I didn’t know before. We are all going to celebrate this Christmas together."

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