Testimonies from Fire Victims

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Tony and Jean Sawyer

We were awakened at 1:00am Monday morning, October 9th by the smell of smoke. After a quick check of the house, we determined that it was not our house that was ablaze. We then went outside to check and the smoke was so thick we could barely see the houses across the street and the wind was blowing like crazy. Having experienced a few local wildfires. I assumed it was close but we were not in immediate danger. I went back into the house and turned on the radio and checked internet to discover that the fire was up in the Mark West Springs area so my first inclination was to contact my aunt who lives on Porter Creek Road. She had evacuated and was safe. As we listened to KSRO we heard that the fire had now jumped Highway 101 and was burning near Kohl’s. Jean got out the video camera and started to video tape the rooms. Then the power went off. We started grabbing the computers and a few pictures, staging them at the front door. We also grabbed some sleeping bags. It was during this time that I received a Nixle alert that they were evacuating the area north of Hopper. I went into Noah’s room to check on his packing. He was in a panic and was not loading his suitcase. After directing him to load his clothes and computer into his car, we set about grabbing our stuff and the pets. We sent Noah to his parent’s house in a safer part of Santa Rosa. I wanted to go back for the contents of our gun safe but my wife was adamant that we leave immediately. All the while, in the back of my mind, I was thinking that the fire wouldn’t, couldn’t get all the way over to our hose. As we were driving away, I received another Nixle alert that the Sheriff’s Office was issuing an evacuation order for most of North West Santa Rosa, including our house. We arrived at my parent’s property in Windsor where we store our motor-home at about 2:30 to set up for the night.

The next hours were agonizing, listening to any news we could get. Sleep would not come the rest of the night. I finally couldn’t take not knowing any longer and drove into the area. We had to park a few blocks away from our house and walk in. Coming down our street, the houses were intact. That little voice said “see, I knew it wouldn’t get to my house”. When I came around the corner, it looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off. Our house was a pile of ashes with a few melted metal objects that used to be appliances and a burned up safe. I cannot describe the feeling in the pit of my stomach but I was just stunned. Tears flowing, I walked up to what had been our home and looked for something that had survived. I then snapped a few pictures, consoled with some neighbors that had walked in as well, and slowly made my way back to the vehicle in the full knowledge that our home was no more.

The time that followed led me down a path where I went from shock and anger into healing and hope. Clinging desperately to the promise that God allowed this for a reason and he was with me through all of this, my wife and I started to take stock of our situation. We have each other. We have a motor-home to live in. We have power, water, food, and heat. We were able to purchase what we needed for the motor-home. God had still met our needs. We were blessed! We have more than most and not just the fire victims. God is good! Further healing happened when I received a call from a brother who had been up for essentially 3 days with minimal sleep, trying to protect his home from the wind whipped fires that were still burning in the area. We were able to gather a group of men and go relieve this exhausted brother, helping him further clear the brush on his property and giving him an opportunity to get some sleep. God used this opportunity to show me that I was still whole and useful. I had been feeling less than human up to that point, almost damaged goods.

All throughout the weeks that followed, God was working on me. It was humbling to accept the charity of others. Boy did God pour out the charity. I have always been the one offering the aid to others. Here
I was on the other end, having to graciously accept the excessive kindness of God through the kindness and obedience of others. I am ashamed to say that it was difficult for me. In the process though I found that I have a deeper understanding of our church’s love for us and by extension God’s love for us. The generosity of support for us, not just financially, has been overwhelming. We love our brothers and sisters in Christ and cannot thank them enough for their support.

It has been a whirlwind of a few weeks. We are moving towards rebuilding a home and a life. We are now blessed with the opportunity to re-evaluate the things in our life as we rebuild. Gone are the ties that kept us anchored in a “good” life, ahead lies the opportunity for a greater life, He has promised! We lost a home full of stuff but what we retain and what we have found is of much greater worth. BTW my aunt’s house was spared! Praise God!

Tim and Leigh Anne Delaney

My family are all fine. We did lose our home in Monday’s fire. 

I have decided to chronicle the disaster in this email to you Brad and am bcc’ing clients and friends. This is my story of what happened. 

Leigh Anne and I were planning on flying to New York on Monday morning to see a 401k client. The power first went off at 11pm which caused the house alarm to go into test mode and make a sound. I got up, reset the alarm, reset our alarm clock and went back to bed. At 12:47am, the power went off again. I got up to reset the alarm clock and heard the front door bell ring 5 or 6 times. I thought that is odd, so I got some clothes on and with a flashlight, went to the front door. No one was there. I walked out to the street and everything look ok. I then turned around to walk back to the house and saw the orange glow to the north. I could hear distinct low base sounding booms, which were propane tanks exploding. The explosions were coming every 15 to 30 seconds. I now realize we have a serious problem.

I went back in and woke up Leigh Anne and told her what was happening. At that point, I was not sure if the fire would come our way so I checked the wind direction at the airport. The wind was blowing our direction. I told LA to start packing because we will probably be evacuating. Time now 1:05am. I looked out our bedroom window and could see more orange glow, no flames yet. Power now came back on. I went to the garage and opened both garage doors while we still had power and backed the two cars out and got them ready to go. Power went off again, so had to get the flashlights again. The power never come back on after this.

We start packing using our flashlights. We were both somewhat in a fog as to what to take. We grabbed clothes and other items. I kept thinking we will be back so I left stuff I now wish  I had taken. LA did too. She was crying being so scared. I too was scared.

Around 1:30am, I looked out and could see the flames were just about to cross the ridge to the east. Distance to the ridge is one mile. Kept packing the car. My neighbor Sandy (age 68) across the street came out to say her husband was out of town and she couldn’t open the garage door (power was out). I told Sandy I would come over to get her door open manually. When I did, I could see she was not moving too quickly but was really in a panicked, paralyzing fog. She had two dogs and two cats she needed to get. I got her car backed out and ready to go. I helped her get her two dogs in the car but the cats were not about to be picked up by anyone. They were in a frenzied state of mind. I looked outside and could now see the flames. I pleaded with Sandy to let’s go and leave the cats. She was adamant about getting her cats. I told her I had to go. We were now down to minutes before the fire would get to us. A house around the corner was now on fire. I continued to plead with Sandy to go and then said, I’m leaving. Please go. I left Sandy not knowing if she would leave. (Post script-Sandy did make it but without her cats)

I ran back across the street and told LA to get in her car. Ash was falling all around us. Burning embers too. I closed the front door and locked it. But the garage doors were open (power still off). How crazy is that to lock the front door when the rest of the home is open. You do silly things in a panic.

Time now 2am.

We drove down the hill and entered the traffic jam. So many people leaving. We were not in eminent danger but just so many people evacuating. Leigh Anne was following me in her car, trying to not get separated. She does not do well with directions and given the panicked state she (and I) was in, was absolutely scared to death of getting separated from me and lost in traffic. I decided to turn around and go a different direction. I rolled down my window to yell at LA to turn around too. She did. We drove the back roads to Matt’s home.

We got there around 2:30am. It took forever to wake them up (about 5 minutes). Sound sleepers. Finally, Matt came to the door. Once he realized what I was saying, we both looked to the north and could see the glow now in the north part of Santa Rosa. We could hear the low rumble again of exploding propane tanks. Some other friends showed up at Matt’s home. At 3 am, we could now see flames, barely but they were there. It was time to evacuate from Matt’s home and get out of Santa Rosa. I helped my 11 year old grandson pack his stuff. He told me to grab his Warriors t-shirts (that’s my boy). I grabbed many of his collared shirts...I was later told by Connor he doesn’t wear collared shirts. Oh well.

We loaded up their cars and left town. The freeway was a mess so we took more back roads. LA was following me closely but really concerned about getting separated. We kept talking on our cell phone. Matt and Allison went a different route, but both of us heading to Sacramento, which is a 2 hour drive in normal conditions. This was, however, not normal conditions. Fortunately, we always keep our gas tanks above the half full mark most of the time so we had the gas to get out of town. Many of the gas stations had long lines for those needing gas. 

As we headed south on the back roads, I could see flames to the east in Rohnert Park, which is 5 miles south of Santa Rosa. I’m thinking this is crazy. Epic disaster. And it’s only 4am. We are only into this disaster for 3 hours and yet it has become epic.

We continued to drive south and trying to figure out using Google Map which roads are open. (There is no direct way from Sonoma County over to Sacramento. Lots of back roads to take). We got on the freeway in Petaluma, which is 15 miles south of Santa Rosa. The freeway is jammed. We get off to take a back road, but then hear on the radio that Highway 37 might be closed. I call LA to turn around and go back to the freeway. Once we get to Novato (30 miles south of Santa Rosa), I could see flames to the east over at Sears Point. We continued driving and eventually made it to Michelle’s home in Ranch Murieta. Matt makes it too. We are safe. Praise the Lord.

Matt’s home is not (yet) in the fire path so it is ok. Matt and his family are staying with his brother in law’ family, also in Sacramento.  Our youngest son Chris and his pregnant wife drove last night from San Luis Obispo to us just to be with us. I told him he didn’t need to take time off from work and drive 5 hours to see us, but if it was important to him, then do it. And he did.

I haven’t heard specifically if Irv’s place made it. It is called Varenna. My mom’s place, called Villa Capri and is across the driveway from Varena, is gone. A client of mine lives in Varenna and knows Irv. He told me he saw flames two or three doors down from his casitas when he evacuated Monday morning. Based on anecdotal comments, I believe parts of Varenna survived.

My mom and her assisting living residents made it out safety too. My brother Joe was able to pick Mom up Monday from the shelter in town. We are working on finding her an assisted living place. I am also scrambling to find a rental. With lots of people now homeless (burnt home count is approaching 600), the rental market is going to be crazy. 

Here is some irony. We lose our home on Monday October 9, 2017. October 10, 2017 was my 40th anniversary of starting my professional working career at Peat Marwick Mitchell. And now we are homeless. Fortunately, we have good homeowners insurance. LA and I have already decided to rebuild our home. But who knows when that will happen.

We now know over 50 friends and clients who have lost their homes. One of them lost 5 homes. The mom, two sons and two daughters. 5 homes. All gone. 

Since the fires are on round 2 in Santa Rosa, we are not sure when we will go back. Today, I am going to buy a metal detector and mask to go look for jewelry and other metal stuff in the ashes. I’m hoping we will go home this weekend, Lord willing. Part of me wants to go and will go, but part of me is scared of seeing our home gone. I have never been through something like this. It will be very emotional for Leigh Anne and me to see what was our dream home, now just ashes. The entire neighborhood and little shopping center is gone.  It is teaching me a tremendous lesson of continuing to trust the Lord. Things on earth are temporal, even though we placed great value on such things. Lives matter. We can rebuild, but we cannot replace a life. Fortunately, we have not heard of anyone we know of losing their life, but that could change. Death count last night was at 11, but expected to climb. 

The fire torching Santa Rosa is called the Tubbs Fire, because it started on Tubbs Lane in Calistoga, which is 8 miles to the east in Napa Valley. 

I just got off the phone with our claims adjuster with Traveler’s Insurance. He said this may become the worst disaster in California of all time. 

Epic Disaster.

Tim Delaney

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