One week after a fast-moving wildfire tore through several neighborhoods in Santa Rosa just as multiple other fires were igniting in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Yuba and several other counties, we are getting stories of some of the dozens of lives lost.
Most but not all of the dead were elderly people who were either asleep when the fires arrived, or somehow became trapped with too little time to escape them.
In a couple of tragic cases, married couples became separated, and one half survived while the other did not.
Lynne Anderson Powell, 72, Santa Rosa
That was the case with 74-year-old George Powell and his wife of 33 years, Lynne Anderson Powell. They went to bed Sunday night smelling smoke, and decided it was probably nothing, only to be roused by a neighbor's car horn at 1 a.m. As CBS 5 reports, the pair got into separate cars to flee their home near the Blue Ridge Trail in the mountains overlooking Santa Rosa. She left first with one of their dogs, heading to Mark West Springs Road, and he left about fifteen minutes later with their three other dogs. In his rush, George Powell thinks he drove right past where Lynne Powell had driven her car off the road and into a ravine amid heavy smoke conditions. A detective would later find her remains, as well as those of the dog, in the car, burned "beyond recognition." The Chronicle reports that Lynne Powell was a retired professional flutist who was recovering from a bout of mouth cancer. She had spent many years with the New Mexico Symphony, which folded in 2011, and the couple had moved first to Oregon and then to the Bay Area to be closer to Lynne's late parents, who lived in Palo Alto. George Powell tells CBS 5, "If I had known, I would have gone down there [in the ravine] with her, even if it meant I would have died with her. I don’t know how I’m going to cope. She was my life. She was my life."
Carmen Berriz, 75, Santa Rosa
The Tubbs Fire cost another man his wife, Armando Berriz, whose story we heard last week. Berriz, 66, and his wife took shelter in the pool of a house he had rented with his wife and married daughter. The pair spent over an hour submerged, sometimes with only their noses and mouths above water, and Carmen Berriz's lungs gave out on her amidst the smoky air, and she died in her husband's arms. They were married for 55 years and were world travelers after Carmen spent her career as a flight attendant for United Airlines.
Valerie Lynn Evans, 75, Santa Rosa
Valerie Lynn Evans was an animal lover known to her neighbors as "the horse lady." She lived on Coffey Lane in Santa Rosa, where she kept horses, goats, dogs, a mule, and a steer, as the Chronicle tells us. Neighbors saw Evans as the fire was approaching and offered help, but Evans, who shared the home with a husband, son, and daughter-in-law, told the neighbor, "We got this" as she attempted to wrangle her dogs, and perhaps other animals. The rest of Evans's family is believed to have survived, but she did not. Per the Chron, "She had an ample collection of horse books, parts of which survived the fire. [A neighbor], whose house also burned, said she occasionally sees stray pages from Mrs. Evans’ library blowing down the street."
Karen Aycock, 54, Santa Rosa
Another ardent animal lover, Karen Aycock likely perished while trying to rescue her animals from her Santa Rosa home, according to friends. They tell the Chronicle that she loved animals "perhaps more than people," and her remains were found in the bathroom of her home in the Coffey Park neighborhood, where she lived with several cats. (The Mercury News puts the number at "at least seven.") A friend and former roommate describes her as timid and quiet, "But she had a big heart." Her family also tells the Merc that Aycock kept people at bay, in part, because she had been diagnosed as schizophrenic and had manic episodes. Aycock spent a lot of time at home and reportedly would get "pretty freaked out about leaving the house."
Christina Hanson, 27, Santa Rosa
Christina Hanson, who used a wheelchair and had spina bifida, never made it out of her apartment early Monday morning as the fire approached, despite a last-minute effort to save her by her father, who suffered severe burns as a result, according to KRON 4. Hanson's stepmother, Jennifer Watson, spoke to her on the phone at 1:37 a.m. last Monday, and Hanson said she had been trying to reach her father, and was scared, as the Mercury News reports. Watson describes Hanson as a "loving, happy, positive person who was talented in sign language and volunteered twice a week at Primrose assisted living center." Hanson lived in an apartment behind her father's home, and he remains sedated in a burn unit in San Francisco.
Kai Shepard, 14, Redwood Valley
By all accounts, Kai Shepard was nothing but friendly and kind to those he met save for when he was wrestling, says the Chronicle. Dan Stearns, principal of Eagle Peak Middle School, where Kai was a student, told the Chron, "When he wrestled, he would turn off the smiling face and turn on his game face. He had a ferocity to him, which was surprising given his personality." Tragically, Kai would not survive the Redwood Valley Fire that consumed his home. As he and his family were evacuating in the early hours of the morning, their cars caught fire, and the family was separated. Kai "succumbed to the fire," as it's described on a crowdfunding page started by an aunt of his. His body was later found in the driveway by neighbor Paul Hanssen, says CBS 5. His mother and sister, Sara Shepard and Kressa, were there too, severely injured by the fire, but alive. Jon Shepard, his father, was found later by first responders up the mountain overlooking their home.
Roy Howard Bowman, 87; Irma Elsie Bowman, 88, Redwood Valley
The Redwood Valley community is also mourning the loss Roy Howard Bowman and Irma Elsie Bowman, a husband and wife who perished in the Redwood Valley Fire that made its way through parts of Mendocino County. According to the Chronicle, Roy Bowman served in the U.S. Navy before going to work for the federal government as a soil analyst. He then retired, and spent time with his wife in their Redwood Valley home. The Chronicle's profile of the couple also presents them as people who were happy to support those in need, and never sought fanfare for their contributions to the community. They spoke with Felice Lechuga-Armadillo, a friend of the couple. She told them: "Anybody who needed a second chance, the Bowmans were their advocate. Anyone who needed help, they stepped forward — but quietly." Sylvia McGuire Nickelson, who was acquainted with the Bowmans, also recounted a time when they helped out with her daughter's tuition after her husband fell ill. "They both were beautiful, inside and out," she said. “I just loved them."
Sharon Robinson, 79, Santa Rosa
One woman's search for her mother ended in tragedy, as the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office identified Sharon Robinson as one of those who perished in the Tubbs Fire. As the Chron reports, Cathie Merkel, Robinson's daughter, was holding out hope that her mother, who dealt with memory loss issues, was just at another shelter. Sadly, that was not to be, as she confirmed on Facebook that her mother had died at the home where she lived alone off Reibli Road in Santa Rosa. As her family asks for privacy to mourn, neighbors and friends of the family have come out and described Robinson as a "lovely, artistic" person, according to KRON 4. Jeri Sprague, one of Robinson's friends, said, "She did some neat things. She even gave some art lessons to my daughter."
Veronica McCombs, 67, Santa Rosa
The McCombs family is mourning the loss of Veronica McCombs, who, according to the Chron, died in her Santa Rosa home on October 9th as the Tubbs Fire made its way through her neighborhood. Branden McCombs, her son, read a statement on behalf of the entire family on Sunday, saying, "She devoted her life to the love and care of our family and her community. She was our foundation. As a family we are grieving deeply and she will be missed forever."
Dr. Carmen McReynolds, 82, Santa Rosa
Gabriel Coke, nephew of Dr. Carmen McReynolds, described his aunt to the Chron as a "Western gal," referring to how she "always had a pocketknife nearby and could shoot a rifle, but she was still very dignified." Janelle McKinley also told them that she was a "[great] sister... like a third parent and a best friend." According to search crews, Dr. McReynolds was found trapped in her car, which was still in her garage at her Santa Rosa home. "She was trying to escape, but she didn’t make it,” said Coke. “If there was no electricity, she couldn’t have got the door open." He later added, "I was always impressed with her. I always thought it was really unique to be related to someone like that."
Mike Grabow, 40, Santa Rosa
One of the younger people to perish in the fire was Mike Grabow, whom friends describe as a very social person who loved the outdoors, and microbrews. He had moved to his family's second home off Mark West Springs Road from the Pacific Northwest several years ago, and his father, Victor Grabow, tells the Chronicle, "He’d do anything for his friends. Whenever they had an emergency he’d be there to help them out." It appears that Grabow went to sleep last Sunday night and stayed asleep as flames overtook the home, and his vehicle remained in the driveway.
Sally Eaves Lewis, 90, Napa
Native Californian Sally Eaves Lewis, who grew up on Atlas Peak in Napa in the 1920s and 30s, perished in her longtime family home there last Sunday along with her caregiver, Teresa Santos. Lewis's great-grandfather, John Putnam Jackson, was a union colonel during the Civil War, and as the Chronicle explains, he built the Napa Soda Springs resort on Soda Canyon Road in 1872. Lewis took over her husband's East Bay school bus dealership after his death in 1958, becoming one of only two female licensed auto dealers in the state. Stunningly, Lewis lost her home of many years in the Berkeley hills to the Oakland Hills firestorm in 1991, after which time she made Napa her primary residence, in the home her parents built in 1927. Lewis's daughter, Windermere Tirados, describes her mother to the Chronicle as "a down- to-earth person who loved everybody," and was an avid fisher and hunter. Tirados and her family busted through a gate last Sunday night to try to rescue Lewis, but said her house was already engulfed in flames when they arrived, with a 20-foot fire tornado on the patio. They barely escaped alive themselves.
LeRoy Halbur, 80, and Donna Halbur, 80, Santa Rosa
Married 50 years, LeRoy and Donna Halbur perished last Monday morning while trying to flee their home on Angela Drive in Santa Rosa, where they had lived for 36 years. Mr. Halbur was an accountant for many years, as the Chronicle reports, and in recent years he had been spending time caring for Mrs. Halbur at home, as she was in poor health. Their son, Tim Halbur, of Los Angeles, tells the Mercury-News that his mother was "very creative, loved little kids," and his father "was always pitching in. Very selfless." LeRoy Halbur helped found the Sonoma chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul organization in 1968, and served on its board for many years. The couple, who were born four days apart in August, 1937, were married on August 12, 1967, and had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in addition to their 80th birthdays.
Daniel Southard, 71, Santa Rosa
Retired fitness trainer Daniel Southard worked hard raising a son on his own after his wife passed away when the son was two years old. Son Derek Southard tells KRON 4 he and his father remained very close, and that he'd even gotten a text from him after midnight last Sunday, shortly before fire would arrive at his Santa Rosa home. Derek was at a wedding in Monterey, and his dad texted to ask if he was having fun. Daniel Southard loved fitness and coached high school football in addition to being co-owner of a Gold’s Gym in downtown Santa Rosa. Derek Southard believes his dad, who had trouble sleeping, likely took a sleeping pill after texting him and never woke up as his neighborhood burned.
Art Grant, 95, and Suiko Grant, 75
Art and Suiko Grant appear to have taken refuge in the wine cellar of their home of 45 years on Riebli Road in Santa Rosa, where they likely asphyxiated last Sunday night. As the Chronicle reports, Suiko Grant was born in Sapporo, Japan, and met Art, a Pan Am pilot, when he was dating her roommate in Honolulu over four decades ago. The couple had two daughters and had settled into retirement in Sonoma County, where they had a hobby vineyard and fruit trees. Their daughter Trina, who just visited the Grants earlier this month, says that theirs was "a true love-at-first-sight story." And in a social media post, per the Merc, Trina Grant wrote, "Dad, I know you’re back flying a corsair again. Mom, you’ll always be the most beautiful woman in the world to me. Godspeed to you both."
Jessica Lachenal also contributed to this post.
All related coverage of the North Bay wildfires on SFist.