After 6.0 earthquake, flames light up Napa mobile home park

Emergency workers stand amid the remains of a mobile home destroyed by a fire after the 6.0 earthquake in Napa.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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Bill Linder couldn’t sleep so he sat up in bed during the pre-dawn darkness Sunday and thought about going to watch TV.

His mind drifted for a bit, and then he heard a noise that seemed to shake his entire body. It had to be a plane crash, he thought.

“It didn’t rumble, just boom!” he said. “It was like Napa bounced.”

The 63-year-old rushed barefoot through the hallway — now damp with spilled olive oil and littered with shards of broken Starbucks mugs — and onto his front porch.


It was just after 3 a.m., and the flames eating his neighbor’s home illuminated everything. He was bearing witness to the first signs of what the 6.0-magnitude earthquake had unleashed on this mobile home park for seniors in Napa.

A few homes down and across the street, Steve Francom stumbled over an old radio, a doll with a button smile and everything else the quake had heaved from the shelves. The live-in caretaker had already checked on the other two people in the home. They were OK, so he headed outside to help.

He heard screams: “There’s a fire! There’s a fire.” Barefoot and in his boxers, he sprinted toward the smell of smoke.

“I saw huge flames pushing out of the house,” he said. “It was like a pyre.”

He wanted to fight the fire, but it was already too big, so he consoled an older woman he found crying and screaming for her cat, Coco.

Before long, he said, firefighters showed up. He heard them screaming three words over and over: “There’s no pressure! There’s no pressure!”

He later learned that a water main had burst near the entrance of Napa Valley Mobile Home Park, where a sign describes the neighborhood as “An Age 55 And Better Community.”


In a domino effect, the embers from the fire jumped from the first home to another and another and another, sending them up in flames.

Laverne Johnson, 90, said her neighbor, whose home was among those that burned, told her that his home had toppled off its foundation and severed a gas line, triggering the fire.

Kelly Doheny, who manages the park’s 255 homes with her husband, said she couldn’t confirm whether the fire was started by a broken gas pipe.

In addition to the four mobile homes destroyed in the flames, 35 others had structural damage and two park residents were hospitalized with injuries. One man fell and hurt his leg trying to get out of his home, Doheny said, and another person suffered a gash to the head.

By mid-afternoon, the concerns at the mobile home park began to downshift from frantic to practical. More than 10 hours had passed and Napa City firefighters had given the remaining hot spots in the ruins of the burned homes a final douse of water. Residents started to realize that they hadn’t eaten all day and walked to a Salvation Army-owned bus labeled “EMERGENCY CANTEEN” for a bowl of chili.

Doheny asked her husband to bring in Porta-Potties since the homes still didn’t have running water and Francom sat on his porch contemplating whether to go to work at his second job as a limo driver on Monday. If he could find his suit in the clutter, he reasoned, he would.


One house over, nobody was home, and a note was posted on the door: “House is empty of people. Only 1 cat left that I can’t find. 6:03 am 8/24/14.”

And back at Linder’s home, he surveyed the only room that still needed to be cleaned — the one where his wife keeps her quilting supplies. He shook his head and walked to the kitchen, where he uncorked a bottle of white wine made from Napa Valley grapes.

“Like the old saying goes,” he said. “I picked the wrong day to stop drinking.”
Twitter: @marisagerber