On the playing field, in the stands, North Bay fire victims find their escape

Santa Rosa Soccer Club player Emi Watanabe, 12, center, smiles during practice at A Place to Play fields in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The club with boys and girls teams ranging in ages from 7 to 18 are practicing at the temporary field after their home field was destroyed in the recent North Bay wildfires. Watanabe and her family are one of 50 families from the club to lose homes in the wildfires. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

SANTA ROSA — Nikko Kitchen wants nothing more than to help Cardinal Newman High School march through the North Coast Section football playoffs this fall. Anything to distract the teen from the memories of October wildfires that torched his split-level home in the Coffey Park neighborhood.

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A month after one of California’s worst fires scorched this vineyard-covered city, a sense of recovery is unfolding on the playing fields where hundreds of kids like Kitchen have found a sanctuary from the most devastating experience of their young lives.

“When I step onto the field everything from the outside world doesn’t matter,” said Kitchen, a senior wide receiver.

All that mattered in the early morning hours of Oct. 9 was escaping an inferno that leveled about 1,000 homes in a once-leafy neighborhood that has become a graveyard of debris.

Kitchen, 17, drove behind his father’s car out of their cul-de-sac when his dad suddenly stopped at the corner. Brian Kitchen just had to return to his beloved home one more time. Then he noticed movement amid the thick ash and smoke as flames engulfed the subdivision.

Riz Gross, who was born without legs, crawled on the molten-hot pavement because her wheelchairs already had burned. Her father Rod Gross tried shielding her from raining embers as propane tanks exploded around them.

Kitchen, 48, got rid of whatever he had stuffed into the front seat of his car to make room for the neighbors. Then he and Nikko helped them into the car with the woman lying on Brian’s …read more

Source:: The Mercury News

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