It was a Thursday in September when Kevin Ashford heard the radio story about Reese Osterberg. The 9-year-old girl had lost her home — and her beloved baseball card collection — in California's Creek Fire, the single largest fire in the state's history.
"I didn't think too much about it, and then on Friday I heard the same story and it just gripped me quite a bit,” recalls Ashford, 62, who lives in San Jose, California, more than three hours away from the still-burning Creek Fire near Shaver Lake. “I thought, ‘That's horrible.'"
The story went on to say that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection was hosting a baseball card drive to help replace the cards that Reese, a baseball player, and some of her friends and teammates had lost in the wildfire.
Ashford pictured his own collection of baseball cards — 25,000 of them, worth an estimated $45,000 to $50,000 — in boxes in his garage.
"I wasn't really doing anything with them,” he says. “I thought, ‘I could take care of this problem rather quickly.'"
Decades-old collection gets a new home
Over the years, Ashford, a candy salesman, and his wife of 38 years have had their share of ups and downs, including sudden job changes and having to file for unemployment. Friends and strangers always came through, providing food and sometimes money.
"We've had that happen so many times, that this was one of those no-brainer moments,” he explains of his massive donation. “This little girl lost everything, and I can't even relate to that."
"He went above and beyond to put a smile on a little girl's face and asked for nothing in return. We can't thank him enough."
About six months ago, Ashford thought about selling some of his cards on eBay. Instead, he helped load 50 boxes, boxes holding cards dating from the late 1990s to 2019, into four California Highway Patrol cars. The fire department had alerted the local news media, which showed up along with fire engines from several stations.
Ashford, who played baseball every chance he got growing up, found himself at the center of a news conference at the end of his driveway.
"If I had the chance to do it over again, I'd do it in a heartbeat,” he says. “Reese was very happy, and that was the objective."
The Osterbergs live in Auberry, California, six miles from Shaver Lake.
When they realized the fire was close enough that they needed to evacuate their 22-acre farm, they first focused on moving themselves, their horses and their dogs to safety.