REDDING — People say it’s just stuff. But right now, it doesn’t feel that way, Laura and Wayne Rathe said.
What about the molds of the kids’ handprints, the ones their two children pressed their tiny hands into three decades ago?
What about the 110-year-old painting Wayne’s grandmother made or the pictures and plaques from Wayne’s career as a K9 officer with the Petaluma Police Department? The house they meticulously renovated over the past 18 years in the Muletown area of Redding is gone, and so are all the cherished mementos that filled it.
The ravenous Carr Fire tore through their rural neighborhood Friday night. By Saturday morning, a neighbor who stayed behind broke the news. All that was left was their Jeep and a little-used hammock.
“It’s not just stuff, it’s your whole life,” Laura, 63, said Saturday through tears. “I thought it was just stuff. But, it’s not. It’s really not.”
As the fire moved their direction, the Rathes focused on finding people who could take their animals — a horse, dogs, goats, cats and a guinea hen.
But they couldn’t catch their donkey, Kyle, so they had to leave him with food and buckets of water.
“We thought we were coming back,” Laura said.
At a community meeting Saturday afternoon at Alta Mesa Elementary School in Redding, Laura was the first to raise her hand to ask if there was anything that could be done to check on animals such as Kyle. Emergency officials told her their priority was saving lives and that many areas remain too dangerous to return to right now.
There is no timeline for allowing residents back in, particularly in hard-hit areas where the fire continues to threaten to boomerang and downed power lines make it dangerous to navigate.
“They have so much going on they can’t deal with one donkey. I get that,” she said after the meeting. But still, even saying Kyle’s name choked her up. He’s ornery, but a “good boy,” she said.
The Rathes desperately want to ask someone to put hydrogen peroxide in their large koi pond to lower the pH for their five fish. That would give them a fighting chance for another couple days. They know this too is a low priority given the wrath of the Carr Fire. But those fish have names and personalities, they said.
Wayne shakes his head thinking of the 6-foot-deep koi pond, where after puttering around his property all day, he relaxed with a cocktail and fed the fish.
“I had my dream house,” Laura said. “It was our retirement home. It is where we planned to live the rest of our lives.”
Laura, who retired a month ago from a nonprofit that rescues dogs from high-kill shelters, said the thought of rebuilding is daunting. They are camping in their trailer while the evacuation orders remain in effect.
“We lost photographs, documents, a whole lifetime of careers,” Wayne, 71, said before stopping abruptly.
Laura knew what had crossed his mind, and they shared a knowing look. He was thinking of the gift Laura had made him when he retired, a shadow box with his police badge and that of his K9 dog.
“It’s gone, and these are things you can’t get back,” Laura said.
But there are things she can get back. By Saturday, Laura had learned that Kyle the donkey was found safe and that the koi fish are doing well, thanks to the nonprofit Haven Humane and emergency workers.
“Losing the home is no longer unbearable,” she said.
She also smiled at one thing that can be re-created. Her children, now 41 and 36, offered to recast their handprints.
“Those will go on our new wall,” she said.
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