Post Office Pickup Brings Fire Evacuees a Sense of Normal

A week after the North Bay fires began to ravage Sonoma and Napa counties, many residents are trying to get back to a sense of normal.

Some did it by getting their mail.

But at the Casa Grande Post Office in Petaluma, which is serving seven of the cities impacted by wildfires, the mail pickup is a far cry from the usual bills, letters and fliers. For evacuees and those who lost homes, it’s paychecks, medication and care packages. Things they need to survive.

For many of those people, however, it serves as a big step to returning to everyday life.

Kenwood resident Judy Hellfend, 72, lost her home and is starting all over.

"All of our buildings, our house, our big adobe shop, our barns, are just ash," she said. "Nothing.”

Hellfend and her partner escaped from her 25-acre farm in Kenwood after a neighbor called, warning them that their property was on fire. They had 15 minutes to grab what was at hand and get out.

"The photograph albums, two pairs of underwear and the clothes that I am wearing," she said. "And that was pretty much it."

Hellfend came to Petaluma to look at buying an RV they can move into as a temporary home. She made a stop at the Petaluma post office as yet another step in getting her life back.

"Property tax. My property tax bill is here!" she said.

There were bills but not the care package she was expecting from her family. Still, she says the fire may have taken her home, but it didn't take her fighting spirit.

"To me, it’s more like, OK, this isn’t what I was planning to do, you know, at age 72; have my house burn down. But that is what it is," she said. "And so, that’s my life, and I am not giving up on making a life."

The post office is open Monday through Friday, and has limited hours on Saturday.

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