These are some of the victims of the Northern California firestorm
By Los Angeles Times Staff
Oct 27, 2017 | 10:45 AM
At least 42 people are dead from the firestorm that broke out in Northern California earlier this month, one of the worst in the state’s history.
These are the victims who have been identified so far.
Mike Grabow, 40
Mike Grabow was an avid outdoorsman, and when he was a boy he and his father would go fly fishing and hunting. He was a caring man who would do anything to help his friends, his father said.
Mike Grabow perished when the Tubbs fire last week consumed a second family home in Santa Rosa, leaving friends and family heartbroken. He was 40 years old.
He grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, said his father, Victor Grabow. Then he moved with his mother to the Northwest and Hawaii. He worked jobs in landscaping and agriculture.
“He never met somebody he didn’t in a few minutes get along with and like him. He was very social,” Victor Grabow said. “He’d give the shirt off his back to any of his friends.”
“He was my rock, my first born,” his mother Cathy Baldwin wrote on Facebook. “He always told me ‘Mom, if you need me don’t worry I got your back.’”
— Adam Elmahrek
Donna Mae and LeRoy Peter Halbur, both 80
LeRoy and Donna Halbur moved into their house on Angela Drive almost four decades ago, when their now-adult sons were boys. The couple celebrated their 80th birthdays and 50th wedding anniversary there in August, eating good food and sipping wine with their family in the backyard. Their sons, Tim and David, played songs from the old Bing Crosby record they loved.
LeRoy and Donna were born four days and about 200 miles apart in Iowa. He served in the Army, then went to college on the GI Bill and became an accountant. She was a nun who left the order to earn a college degree of her own, later working with children as a reading specialist.
They moved to California in part because of her allergies, initially setting their sights on La Jolla, said their son Tim. But when LeRoy got a job in Santa Rosa, the couple settled there.
LeRoy was devoted to the community — a reflection of his Catholic faith, Tim said. He traded vegetables from his garden with neighbors. He served as an usher at the couple's church and helped start the Sonoma County branch of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic charity. He delivered food to those in need each week, his son said, loading up donations just days before his death.
“He didn’t want any credit,” Tim said. “He just served.”
LeRoy, a longtime accountant at Codding Enterprises, also loved to travel, cruising down the Nile River with his sons and flying to Japan for Tim’s 40th birthday. He went to Turkey and Mongolia, and rode the Trans-Siberian Railway.
“He tried to go everywhere,” Tim said. “It was a nice thing to see, because he was so selfless in so many other ways.”
Donna cared deeply about learning, her son said, working at different elementary schools with children who struggled to read. She wrote children’s books and invented board games for her sons to play — inspiring the creativity they now show as musicians, Tim said.
“She was a very free spirit,” Tim said. “She enjoyed things being fun and creative and spontaneous, and tried to instill that in everyone around her.”
They died at the hillside house they had called home for decades. LeRoy was in the driveway, his son said. Donna was in the car parked in the garage.
— Kate Mather
Lynne Anderson Powell, 72
Lynne Anderson Powell was a dog lover, avid quilter and professional flutist.
On Oct. 8, her husband, George, saw the orange glow of fire in the distance from the couple’s home on Blue Ridge Trail in the hills above Santa Rosa. He woke Lynne, told her to grab her dog — a red-and-white border collie named Jemma — and said to get moving.
“I’ll get out as soon as I can,” he assured her.
She asked which direction to go at Mark West Springs Road, the main artery that quickly caught fire as flames came tearing down through the trees.
Turn right, he said.
They planned to meet at a hospital or school parking lot at the bottom of the road.
Lynne Powell never made it. As flames leapt across the road and smoke made it impossible to see, she missed a hard turn and went off the road down a ravine.
Fifteen minutes later, driving down the same road with his dogs, George Powell passed the same spot.
“I didn’t know,” he said, opening his eyes wide as a question lingered in the air at a friend’s Sebastopol home where he is temporarily staying.
“If we’d have gone together, maybe that would have saved her,” he said. “Either that or we would have perished together. We’d have been together.”
Authorities later found Lynne’s blue-gray Toyota Prius and, a few steps away, her remains, burned beyond recognition. The Powells’ dentist identified them.
Jemma, still inside the car, had also burned to death.
George thought Lynne must have tried to escape on foot, but first would have tried to get the dog out from the back of the car.
“It’s evident that she was overwhelmed instantly,” George said. “Hopefully she wasn’t in a lot of pain.”
Just days after his wife’s death, George, 74, described Lynne as “my passion and my life.”
Still wearing his wedding ring, he said he’ll die with it on.
“I don’t want to find someone else,” he said. “I’ve been to the mountain. I’ve found [my] love.”
The Powells met when George was 40 and Lynne was 38. She was tall with amber eyes and a dirty-blond ponytail. Both of them had been previously married and divorced. He was working as a freelance photographer in L.A. and she played flute in the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra.
They were introduced through mutual friends, George said, and the connection was instant.
“There was so much electricity between us,” he said.
Not quite three months later they were married before a few friends and a rented judge in the house Lynne owned.
George got a job for a local government TV station and Lynne later became a secretary. They stayed in Albuquerque until they both retired and then moved to Eugene, Ore. They never had children.
In 2007, the Powells moved to the Bay Area to be closer to Lynne’s aging parents, who have since passed away.
Lynn Bowen was their real estate agent and later a friend.
“The property had to work for dogs,” Bowen said. “And the house had to have a room that could be designated for and accommodate her quilting.”
The couple found a simple, one-story ranch-style home in a development amid rolling hills dotted with oak trees and trails.
They trained their dogs in agility and sheepherding. Lynne spent hours making quilts for friends and for fundraisers, including a wall-size hanging of sheep, border collies and a shepherd that hung in George’s office. They hiked every morning, ran their dogs in the meadow and hosted any friend who came to visit.
“I figured we had another 15 or 20 years together — that was our plan,” George said.
In the last two years Lynne had battled mouth cancer, making it painful to eat. Yet she still cooked for herself and George.
“She always did things for me. She always thought of me no matter what was happening to her,” he said. “I don’t know if I can keep going,” he said, putting his head in his hands.
George can’t contemplate the future yet. In addition to his wife, he lost his home and everything in it — her collection of flutes, his life’s photography work. His only priority now is to find a mortuary for Lynne and a small, plain container for her ashes.
“I do want her near me,” he said.
— Nina Agrawal
Charles Rippey, 100, and Sara Rippey, 98
In his later years, Charles Rippey had lovingly begun to call his wife his queen.
“Here comes the queen,” he used to say, as Sara approached in her wheelchair.
He was 100 and she was 98, and the two had been inseparable since they were children in grade school. Both died when the Atlas wildfire in Napa engulfed their home.
Soon after they married in 1942, Charles, better known as “Peach” — a nickname his mother gave him as a child because of his rosy cheeks — went off to war. His deployments took him to North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, leading a company of 200 black soldiers.
When he returned home, he was hired as an engineer at Firestone in Akron, Ohio. The company promoted him over the years and assigned him to posts in distant places, such as Sweden and Argentina.
Sara stayed home and raised five children.
“She used to make us the best eggs,” son Mike said. “Each kid liked theirs a different way — scrambled, over medium, poached.”
When Mike moved out to Northern California after college, his siblings and parents eventually followed. This summer, the family gathered to celebrate the Rippeys’ 75th wedding anniversary.
His father doted on his mother, Mike said. He bought her jewelry, took her dancing and told her he could not live without her.
Sara was not as affectionate, but “everywhere he went, she went,” he said.
Kai Logan Shepherd appears to be the youngest person whose life was claimed by the fires that have ravaged wine country.
He was a shy eighth-grader at Eagle Peak Middle School. He loved the Giants and pitched in the Babe Ruth League. He was a wrestler, said his aunt, “stocky and strong, with a great big smile and wonderful dimples.” Recently, he had begun playing the sax in his school band.
As the Shepherds — Kai, his parents and older sister — frantically tried to drive to safety, their cars caught fire halfway down the mountain, forcing them to flee on foot. Kai’s mother, Sara, and sister, Kressa, were saved by a neighbor, Paul Hanssen, who had survived the firestorm by locking himself in a metal trailer that he’d pushed against rocks on his property.
Hanssen found Kai’s body against an embankment about 50 feet from his mother and sister.
A real estate agent by trade, Carol Collins-Swasey remained active in the local American Red Cross volunteer program after she retired.
She died during the devastating Santa Rosa fires, her stepdaughter Roxanne Swasey said in an email. Her husband, Jim Swasey, was out of town, and when he couldn’t get in touch with her, he called authorities, Swasey said.
“Her remains were discovered in the house, which was located in Coffey Park,” Roxanne Swasey wrote.
“As you can imagine this is a very stressful time in our family's lives. We are devastated at the loss of Carol,” she added.
She described how Carol’s career brought her to Santa Rosa. She had been married to Jim for 27 years and “was quick-witted with a great sense humor and an animal lover.”
“She was a positive influence on a lot of people's lives in helping them buy homes and felt a lot of gratitude in being able to do so,” Roxanne wrote.
She recalled how Carol loved to sit back and crochet afghans for her friends and family.
It was “very grandmotherly in that way. She also had the best chocolate chip cookie recipe I've ever tasted and enjoyed surprising us with them when my siblings and I were kids. ”
Carol leaves behind four stepchildren, nine grandchildren and three brothers.
— Ben Oreskes
Linda Tunis, 69
Linda Tunis' remains were found at her home in Journey's End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa, according to daughter Jessica Tunis.
"I have been a mess, absolutely devastated," Jessica Tunis wrote on Facebook. "Hug and kiss your loved ones extra hard tonight.”
Earlier, Jessica had used the social media platform to try to find her mother, asking users if they knew whether the park was evacuated before it burned down and posting a missing-person flier.
The pair had last spoken early on Oct. 9.
Linda Tunis called her daughter from her burning home and said, "I'm going to die" before the phone went dead, the Associated Press reported.
"May she rest in peace, my sweet Momma," Jessica Tunis wrote.
— Alene Tchekmedyian
Sharon Rae Robinson, 79
Sharon Robinson’s family searched for her in shelters in Sonoma County. Her daughter, Cathie Merkel, took to social media, sharing photos of Robinson and asking if anyone had seen her. Robinson had memory loss and her family hoped she’d ended up at an evacuation shelter, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Merkel later updated posts with, “FOUND RIP.” In a later Facebook post, she thanked friends for their efforts to find her mother and stated that Robinson did not make it out of her home the night of the fire.
“During the next few days I won't be returning any messages as we deal with the effects of this tragedy,” Merkel wrote. “We know she found peace in her passing.”
Jeri Sprague, a former neighbor, knew Robinson for decades. Robinson did a lot of artwork and painting, even giving some classes to Sprague’s daughter.
“She was really a warm and lovely woman, absolutely,” Sprague said. “Just a really kind person … she was just really great.”
— Brittny Mejia
Carmen Caldentey Berriz, 75
Carmen Berriz met her husband, Armando, in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood of Havana when she was 12 and he was 13. They lived just a few blocks from each other.
“It was love at first sight,” said their eldest daughter, Carmen T. Meissner. “They were madly, deeply and passionately in love since they met as teenagers, always and forever until death made them part.”
After 55 years of marriage, Carmen died in her husband’s arms as they sought refuge from the Tubbs fire in a swimming pool, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Armando survived.
The couple had been on a weekend getaway in a Santa Rosa rental home with another daughter, Monica Ocon, their son-in-law and granddaughter, who all also escaped the fire.
The couple’s love story had stood the test of time — dating back to when they were teenagers and Armando Berriz was sent abroad to attend high school. Even then, the two kept in touch.
“Distance would not stop this amazing love,” Meissner said.
Later, the two would each leave Cuba for Miami with their families. When Armando graduated from Villanova University, the pair married on a rainy day in June 1962. Their honeymoon was driving a red convertible from Miami to Glendale, where their three children grew up.
Carmen was the type of person “you meet once and never forget,” Meissner said.
“She was engaging, humble, joyful, genuinely interested, caring, concerned, and just lovely to be around,” Meissner said. “She was a devoted, loving, caring wife, mother, and an especially involved and attentive grandmother of seven.”
She had a passion for traveling the world and was doing just that after retiring from United Airlines after 26 years. She was a constant presence in her grandchildren’s lives, at every birth, birthday, play, school concert and more.
“She was the glue that held my family and extended family together,” Meissner said.
Meissner considered her mother her rock and her confidante.
“I have so many memories, as I play them through my mind,” Meissner said. “Selfishly, I just assumed that she would be with me for a good quarter of a century, if not longer. Presumptuously, I was counting on her for so many unforeseen moments that are yet to come in my life and the lives of my children.”
Meissner praised her parents’ love for each other, describing them as affectionate and deeply caring of each other’s needs.
“Their commitment to one another is somewhat rare these days; I am so grateful that I was so fortunate to have this force of unconditional love be my guiding light; and now that amazing force will be guiding me from the heavens above,” Meissner said.
Armando Berriz is back at the home he shared with Carmen in Apple Valley. He has been constantly surrounded by friends and family, Meissner said.
“He is facing his new reality, life without his soulmate, with humility, dignity and grace,” she said.
— Brittny Mejia
Irma Elsie Bowman, 88, and Roy Howard Bowman, 87
To many people in their community, Roy and Irma Bowman were a gift from God.
The couple helped fund a Spanish-speaking ministry at their church, the Ukiah Assembly of God, and believed in being kind and helping others. But they didn’t just preach it, they showed it.
“They helped pay for my brother’s education when he needed to go to private school. They gave people work and helped one family at church,” said Juana Lechuga-Armadillo, a close friend of the couple. “They were doers, not talkers and they were very humble. “
Sara Basaldua, of Ukiah, said:
“They were quiet but they would ask you how you’re doing. They would chat with you after church and it was always about you, never about them,” she said. “People thought of them as family. It was a close-knit church.”
Basaldua, 35, said the couple were deacons at the church and performed Communions.
Roy Bowman, 87, was a Navy veteran and a former federal employee. Irma Bowman, 88, was once a waitress and loved to bake and make things for people. The Bowmans celebrated their 50th anniversary at the church two years ago. They have children and grandchildren in Oregon and Texas, according to friends.
Family members could not be reached for comment.
According to property records, the couple moved to Redwood Valley, a small community with a little over 2,000 residents, in the late 1970s. Their house, a blue-gray single-story home with white trimmings, sat along Fisher Lake Drive, not far from the Russian River.
Lechuga-Armadillo said she met the Bowmans when she was 9 years old. She said her mother and siblings had moved from Phoenix and began attending the same church as the Bowmans.
Over the years, she said, the couple became more like family members. They gave the family rides to the church, attended high school sports events and even baked birthday cakes. They were there when the the next generation of children arrived.
“I was 9 when Irma made my first birthday cake and I was 25 when she made my last one,” she said. “She made my son’s first baby blanket and birthday cakes.”
Earlier this year, according to friends of the couple, Roy Bowman suffered a stroke. The couple then attended another church, closer to Redwood Valley, to make it easier for Roy.
Lechuga-Armadillo said her mother spoke to Irma after it happened.
“She told me that Irma said that if Roy had another stroke, she wanted to have one too because she couldn’t live without him,” Lechuga-Armadillo said.
No one had heard about the Bowmans after the Redwood fire swept through the small community in Mendocino County. The Bowmans were planning on taking a trip to see family in Oregon, but friends said they didn’t know if they had left before the fire struck the community.
“We kept calling and calling and started messaging people that I knew, asking if they had seen them,” Lechuga-Armadillo said.
She said she posted photos of the Bowmans on Facebook and also filed a missing-persons report with authorities. But she said she was having a hard time reaching the couple’s children.
“They had no idea a fire was even going on in there,” Basaldua said. “All the news coverage was about Sonoma County.”
Adding to the worries, she said, was conflicting information she was getting from people, some who said they had seen the couple flee the firestorm.
“Friends were going to evacuation centers but couldn’t find them,” Lechuga-Armadillo said.
Basaldua said she was on her way to a shelter when she got a phone call from authorities, telling her that the Bowmans had been found.
They were inside their home when the fire swept through and burned it to the ground.
Basaldua said she pulled over after the phone call and started to pray.
“I was praying that they didn’t suffer. You just gotta pray and believe they went peacefully, hopefully in their sleep.” she said. “They were good people and they were serving God for so many years. I know he wouldn’t allow his children to suffer like that.”
Lechuga-Armadillo said: “I’m broken.”
She said authorities told her the couple were found together.
“My God wouldn’t let them suffer and he knew one couldn’t be without the other, and they were together,” Lechuga-Armadillo said. “I take peace in knowing that they went together. They wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
— Ruben Vives
George Chaney, 89
Michael John Dornbach, 57
Michael Dornbach saved up for years to buy his own slice of the good life: a cabin in the Northern California countryside.
He didn’t like Southern California. He longed for the peace, the quiet that came with rural living. He wanted to be able to look up at night and see a sky full of stars.
Dornbach, 57, got close to making that a reality. He was visiting family near Calistoga, looking for a small plot of land outside Sonoma County, when the fires hit. He died Oct. 9 in the Tubbs fire, unable to escape in time.
“The fires came from both sides,” his mother, Maria Triliegi, said Tuesday. “I mean, it was absolutely devastating. It just came right through and took whatever it wanted.”
Laura Dornbach said her brother was staying with her 18-year-old son Robert on family property three miles outside of Calistoga. He and his nephew had been close, especially after Robert’s father died two years ago.
Laura, who lives in Calistoga, drove over Sunday night to bring them homemade cookies. It was dark outside when she left, and had started getting windy enough to make the trees sway. She thought it looked pretty.
Laura left her son and brother outside the house, on the ridge of the mountain. She told them to be careful.
The mandatory evacuation order came an hour later. They had 20 minutes to leave.
Her son called her to say he had gone with his aunt to check out the fire. It was coming up the hill. They raced back to the property to get Michael.
Robert pleaded with his uncle to leave. But Michael had just bought a new truck and couldn’t find his keys. He looked desperately for them.
“I’m not leaving my truck,” he told his nephew. Robert and his aunt were forced to take off. Michael never made it off the property.
Laura said that despite her brother’s tough exterior — a strong, stubborn Italian man with tattoos — he was compassionate. He had worked as a longshoreman in the San Pedro port until a tugboat accident 10 years ago left him injured. He was an avid fisherman and gardener.
“You couldn’t change his mind easy,” she said. “I wish I could have just been there. You can’t move Michael unless you had a bulldozer. Maybe I could have done it.”
— Andrea Castillo
Valerie Lynn Evans, 75
She was known by neighbors along Coffey Lane as “the horse lady.” Over the years, she kept horses, a cow, goats and a mule named Pete on her property.
“I moved in there when I was 5, and the highlight of my day was being able to walk in the street and see him,” said Taylor Long, who used to live near Evans. “People walked all over just to see Pete.”
Evans would leave the grass uncut on one side so visitors could pull it and feed the animals, Long said.
When the mule passed away a few years ago, the family put out a sign letting everyone know.
“People left flowers and apples on the side of the pen,” Long recalled. “Everybody came walking down, and they expressed their condolences.”
Long got to know Evans better when she worked at Tractor Supply. Whenever Evans came in, Long would help her grab all of her feed.
She described Evans as a straightforward woman who “didn’t take crap from anybody.”
“When I found out she had passed, I went back to Tractor Supply and I told my co-workers,” Long said. One “started crying with me. It was such a close-knit community.”
— Brittny Mejia
Arthur Tasman Grant, 95, and Suiko Grant, 75
Arthur Grant was a retired Navy lieutenant and captain for Pan American Airways. One of 13 children, he grew up in Point Arena, Calif. He attended California Polytechnic State University on a scholarship before leaving to join the Navy. He trained as a fighter pilot on the Corsair and Hellcat during World War II.
Suiko Grant was a homemaker who earned a bachelor’s degree from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. She was born in China and raised in Sapporo, Japan.
Arthur met Suiko in Honolulu, while he was flying for Pan Am and Suiko worked for a Japanese company. Although he was dating her roommate, Suiko stole his heart. She used to call it love at first sight.
The couple died together on Oct. 9, when the home they shared for more than 45 years was destroyed in the wildfire.
They are survived by their two daughters, Tasman Grant and Trina Grant, and granddaughter Sloane Straayer.
“We’re shocked by this sudden turn of events, but we take comfort in the fact that they had each other for so long,” Trina Grant said in a statement.
“My parents had that comical, cantankerous sort of relationship some people have, especially as they grew old together. My dad would secretly water the garden while my mom was out running errands, and she would give him a hard time about drinking beer, to little effect. When I picture my parents, I picture them happily complaining about each other until the very end."
Private services are pending. The family asked that donations be made to veterans support organizations in Art's name or to the Arthur and Suiko Grant Memorial Fund in lieu of flowers.
— Brittny Mejia
Veronica Elizabeth McCombs, 67
Carmen Colleen MacReynolds, 82
Dr. Carmen Colleen MacReynolds carved herself an uncommon path for many women of her time.
MacReynolds grew up in Colorado. She shot rifles and rode motorcycles, became a doctor, divorced early and lived much of her adult life with her best friend.
She was fiercely independent, right up to the end. MacReynolds died trying to escape her home near Santa Rosa, where she lived alone, as it was overtaken by the Tubbs fire. She was 82.
MacReynolds came from a family of doctors and nurses, said nephew Gabriel Coke, 48. Her mother was a nurse and her father was a surgeon. MacReynolds spent 25 years practicing internal medicine for Kaiser Permanente in the East Bay.
“She could have been like the type of girl who wanted to be like her mom and be a nurse,” Coke said. “But she was the type of girl who wanted to be like her dad and be a doctor.”
MacReynolds was proud of her accomplishments. Coke said that when exchanging letters with his mother, she would always say, “Don’t forget the M.D.”
Her father also helped instill in her a sense of adventure, Coke said. Growing up, she would go for day trips on horseback. She drove a 1954 Ford pickup and played guitar and piano. Her favorite musician was Hank Williams.
“Boys really liked her — she could look really pretty. But she was also kind of a tough character,” he said.
MacReynolds married a medical school classmate, but they divorced several years later. Not long after, she and her best friend, Nadine Caligaris, became roommates. They bought the luxury home near Santa Rosa together in 1995.
Caligaris died 10 years ago, leaving MacReynolds alone in the house. But she remained self-sufficient. She especially loved to spend time at her cabin in western Sonoma County, where she rode motorcycles through her mid-70s.
After family members learned of the fires, they kept hoping she’d turn up. She had no Internet or cellphone.
Coke called the elementary school in Cazadero, where MacReynolds’ cabin is located. Administrators sent volunteer firefighters to check if she was there. She wasn’t.
He didn’t get really worried until more than two days after the fire started.
“She’s so independent…. I know this sounds bizarre, but even in a crisis you just don’t feel like you need to call her,” he said.
Coke messaged fellow members of a golfing Facebook group in Santa Rosa to ask if someone could drive by MacReynolds’ house. A stranger responded 20 minutes later: “Police will not let me go there but I can tell you from what I know, that whole place is gone.”
An aerial image from before the fire shows MacReynolds’ and her neighbors’ homes on Kilarney Circle with green, manicured lawns. An after image shows gray and white ash. No houses.
“My heart sank,” Coke said.
Search crews identified MacReynolds by the serial numbers on the joints from her double hip replacement. She was found in her 1973 Mercedes-Benz, trapped in the garage. Coke said that without power, her automatic garage door wouldn’t have opened, and she may not have had the strength to lift it manually.
Coke remembers shooting rifles with his aunt while growing up. He described her as dignified and stern but funny. He admired her for being a trailblazer. His favorite recent memory is visiting her with his two daughters and seeing how much she adored them. She never had children of her own.
MacReynolds had made arrangements for her cremation and funeral years ago, and Coke said she planned to leave her wealth and property to charity.
She is survived by her brother, Joseph McKinley III of Sidney, Mont., and her sister, Janelle McKinley of Nevada City., Calif.
— Andrea Castillo
Lee Chadwick Roger, 72
Daniel Martin Southard, 71
Edward Stone, 79
Sally Lewis, 90
After the Oakland Hills fire claimed her home in 1991, Sally Lewis moved to the home her family had built on Soda Canyon Road almost a century ago. It was in this home that the 90-year-old Lewis and her caretaker, Teresa Santos, died after fire swept through Napa.
Lewis loved hunting, fishing and nature. After her husband’s death in 1966, she raised her two young daughters alone. She never remarried, as her husband had been “the love of her life.”
“She was a severely independent woman with a great sense of humor,” her daughter, Windermere Tirados, said. “She was just a wonderful person. There was nobody like her.”
Tirados heard about the fire when friends in Napa phoned her at about 10:30 p.m., telling her and her husband, Marlon Fineza Tirados, to come. The couple immediately called Santos, who could not express how close the fire was.
Windermere and Marlon drove from their home in Vacaville, their sons tailing them in another car. They continued to phone Santos along the way.
“She was panicking,” Marlon said. “We just said, ‘Get ready, we’ll be there. No matter what.’”
In their last call, about 15 to 20 minutes before they arrived, Santos told them: “Come, come, come, just come.”
“We’re on our way, we’re almost there,” Windermere recalled telling her.
When they arrived, they drove past fire trucks and smashed the car through the front gate, trying to reach the house. It was completely engulfed in flames.
“When we got to the patio area, there was a 20-foot fire tornado,” Windermere said. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
They honked the horn, hoping that the two had gotten out. But neither one had.
Lewis had celebrated her 90th birthday just a couple of weeks before.
“Mom was just such a great person and lived life the way she wanted to,” Windermere said. “She let nothing stop her or get in her way if she wanted to do something.”
— Brittny Mejia
Teresa Santos, 50
Every weekend, Teresa Santos would take a few days off from her job as a caregiver for 90-year old Sally Lewis. She would leave on Friday and return Sunday. On Oct. 8, she relieved Lewis’ grandson, who left the Napa home at around 7 p.m.
At about 10:30 p.m., Windermere Tirados, Lewis’ daughter, received a call about a fire on Atlas Peak. On her way to her mother’s home, Tirados and her husband, Marlon, kept in contact with Santos.
In their last conversation, Marlon told Santos to pack the medication and get ready to go. She told him her phone battery was low and that she was going to charge it. They tried to call back Santos on her cellphone five minutes later and there was no response. They called the house phone. Again, no answer.
When Windermere and Marlon reached the home, it was fully engulfed in flames. They honked the horn, hoping Lewis and Santos had made it out.
“She didn’t save herself, she stayed with my mother until the end,” Windermere said of Santos.
Marlon called to tell Santos’ sister – who had been hoping that she had escaped. Her family was devastated and in disbelief, Windermere said.
Santos lived with Lewis five days a week, working as her caregiver for about a year. Because Teresa didn’t have a car, her sister would normally drop her off at the house.
“Talking to her sister, she loved coming up there and going to work there and being with mom,” Windermere said.
Windermere described Santos as a “sweet, quiet person and very loving.”
“Very loyal caregiver, very wonderful person,” she added. “She was an angel sent to us definitely, to take care of my mom.”
— Brittny Mejia
Garrett Paiz, 38
Known affectionately as “Taco,” Garrett Paiz lived in Noel, Mo., and was formerly of Mecca, Calif. Paiz died in a fatal traffic accident on Oakville Grade in Napa County on Oct. 16 while driving a privately owned water tender.
Paiz lost control of the truck, which overturned, crashed into a guardrail and dove down a steep hillside, according to the California Highway Patrol. He had been on his way down to refill the tanker to help battle the Nuns fire, the CHP said.
He had served as a volunteer firefighter in Noel and was described as the jokester of the crew, with a smile seemingly stamped on his face.
“He was just the guy who was full of energy, always ready to go to work,” said Noel Fire Chief Brandon Barrett. “He was a hardworking guy, had a great personality.”
Paiz had come to them with the nickname “Taco,” Barrett said. Paiz explained that when he had contracted with private companies to do wildland firefighting, he always drew the short straw to go to the taco stand and get everyone tacos. The nickname stuck.
Callifornia Guardsmen and first responders came together on Oct. 18 to give a farewell salute to Paiz as he left Napa County for the last time.
“On behalf of our parents, we want you to know that our brother passed doing what he loved,” Garrett’s brother, Carlos Paiz, posted on Facebook. “He served others to the very end.”
— Brittny Mejia
Marilyn Ress, 71
Above all else, Marilyn Ress believed in paying it forward.
She carried a bag filled with boxes of See’s Candies to give to people like her bus driver. She paid for people’s groceries or bought their burgers at Carl’s Jr. if she saw them struggling. On holidays, she’d collect the names of neighbors who didn’t have plans and make sure they got a home-cooked meal.
Ress died in the Tubbs fire on Oct. 8. Rescuers found her remains after her best friend Cynthia Conners reported her missing.
“The world could learn a lot from Marilyn Ress,” Conners said.
Ress dressed in white tennis shoes, polyester pants and scrub tops from her days as a certified nursing assistant, and a pink or white buttoned up cardigan. She braided her gray and light brown hair and wore a gold cross around her neck. She had a tiny smile, Conners said, “like she knew something the rest of us did not.”
Conners said Ress was generous and compassionate, with a goofy sense of humor. She was more interested in making sure the people around her were OK than talking about herself.
Ress lived her entire life in California’s wine country. She came from a family of pig farmers in a rural part of Sonoma County. She had no partner or children but always had two cats. Conners said she had several siblings but was estranged from her family.
Before the fire hit, Ress and Conners had missed a couple of each other’s calls. They spoke at least once a week and saw each other often. Ress didn’t drive, so Conners would take her to the grocery store, to the doctor’s office, to the bank or just on long drives. Conners would turn to Ress for her sound advice.
Conners and Ress were friends for more than 40 years, since they met in the 1970s while working together at a hospital. After a divorce nearly 20 years ago, Conners moved into the complex of one-bedroom bungalows where Ress lived on the east side of Santa Rosa.
Last Thanksgiving, Ress — not much of a cook — came to Conners with a list of 11 neighbors who needed meals. Conners postponed her own plans to help her friend prepare three turkeys, 20 pounds of potatoes and fresh cranberry sauce. Ress wrapped each plate in foil and delivered them two at a time, greeting her neighbors in a heart-print apron.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Ress moved into a trailer at the Journey’s End mobile home park in north Santa Rosa. She had been saving up and was thrilled to finally be a homeowner. Conners said the name now sounds like a sick joke.
Two days after the fire scorched the area, Conners reported Ress missing. The county coroner called by the end of the week and told her a search team had found Ress’ remains in the frame of what had been her bed.
On a recent night, Conners walked out to the bungalow where Ress had lived, imagined her smoking Marlboro lights on the porch like she did every night, and burst into tears.
“If you ever met her you’d love her,” Conners said. “Everybody did.”
— Andrea Castillo
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