Mendocino County Community Remembers Tragic Fire Through Art

Artists and community members in fire ravaged Mendocino County town of Redwood Valley are marking the one-year anniversary of the tragic fire by looking back through art.

This week artist Elizabeth Raybee installed a mosaic mural on the side of the Redwood Valley Grange where fire victims gathered in the days after the fire for hot meals, counseling and camaraderie. Raybee said the mural has been under way for months with some 40 people, including some who lost homes and even loved ones in the October 8th, fire pitching in.

“The intention is to memorialize what was really a catastrophic and community and life changing event for so many people in the area,” Raybee said.

The large mosaic contains dozens of images in ceramic that symbolize the many experiences the night of the fire; cars filled with families trying to escape the flames; the countless domestic and wild animals that perished; the chimneys that remained as the only evidence of the homes that once stood.

In the center of the mosaic is a large heart containing the names of the nine Redwood Valley people who died in the fast-wind-swept fire.

“I think this mural is phenomenal,” said Redwood Valley resident Jaye Alison Moscariello watching the installation. "It’s moving, it honors the people who died and it honors the rest of us who survived.”

On Friday, the community will turn out to dedicate the mural with music, poetry and the sort of communal spirit that has carried the area forward since the disaster. Judy Gerlinney, who successfully battled a night of flames to save her home, said working on the mural alongside other survivors proved a therapeutic experience.

“It was very healing for me and also my neighbors were there,” Gerlinney said. “Everyone could put a little bit of something into it — a community effort."

The town has spent the week holding gatherings to remember the victims of the fire. Not far from the mural, the community this week dedicated a plaque on a large rock. Art galleries around the area have hosted fire-related art exhibitions.

Marybeth Kelly, who lives just down the road from The Grange said the mural will serve a dual purpose as a reminder and a memorial.

“It’s needed, that’s the main thing that I see,” Kelly said. “This community needs to unfortunately go back and touch that pain but to honor.”

Raybee stepped back as the crew of volunteers tucked the final piece of the mural onto the wall and screwed it in. The mural faces East Road where many of survivors traversed to escape the inferno. She hoped drivers passing the mural would not only reflect on the tragic disaster that devastated a community — but also its force as a catalyst for a community banding together in its recovery.

“We want to memorialize the whole event,” Raybee said, “the good parts, the bad parts.”

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