Stories of survival and tragedy emerge from Calif. widlfires

Flight attendant Michella Flores first survived the Las Vegas shooting and then lost her home in the wildfires a week later

By Don Sweeney
The Sacramento Bee

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — As firefighters continue to battle wildfires across Northern California, individual stories of survival, tragedy and heroism continue to emerge.

The death toll from Northern California’s devastating wildfires grew to 41 on Saturday – the deadliest period in the state’s fire history – but an army of 10,000 firefighters continued battling Sunday to save neighborhoods and entire wine country towns. More than 100,000 people have been evacuated since Oct. 8. Statewide, more than 5,700 structures have burned, including nearly 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa.

‘My saddest things were my baseball collection cards’

Loren Jade Smith, 9, wrote a heartbreaking letter to the Oakland A’s after his home burned down.

He told the team about his love for the A’s and the six World Series victories he imagined for them playing in the back yard of his Santa Rosa home, reports KGO 7.

“But my house burned down in the Santa Rosa fire and my saddest things were my baseball collection cards … my 17 jerseys and 10 hats and my baseball from the game and also a ball signed by the whole team and Rickey Henderson and Bob Melvin,” Smith wrote.

Dave Keval, president of the A’s, told the station that the team plans to get in touch with Smith’s family and outfit them with A’s gear.

‘It’s just a very helpless feeling’

First Michella Flores, a flight attendant, survived the Las Vegas shooting when a gunman opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino at a Jason Aldean performance at the Route 91 Harvest festival. The attack killed 59 people and wounded more than 500.

Then, after she returned home to Santa Rosa, Flores and her parents had to flee their rental home in the raging wildfires Sunday night, reports CNN. The home and all their possessions were destroyed.

“It’s just a very helpless feeling,” Flores said. “I just thought, well, I’ve been in these situations before. It shouldn’t be a big deal. But when it’s happening to you, it’s a whole different realm.”

‘This has just been a nightmare’

Fire-weary east Santa Rosa residents fled their homes for a second time early Saturday after a new blaze erupted west of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, reports the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Sirens and bullhorns awakened exhausted residents at 4:30 a.m. Linda Aldrich, owner of the Pony Express horse-riding schoold, was awakened by a barn door banging in the wind.

“This has just been a nightmare,” she said. “I shut the barn door and saw the big red glow behind me.”

She evacuated, leaving behind 14 horses.

‘A wall of flames and you’

As the flames closed in Sunday night on the Napa community of Browns Valley, Dan Wynn and Eli Ponce fired up their bulldozers. They spent six days cutting an improvised fire line to protect the community from the Nuns Fire, reports KGO 7.

“This is right behind us all, a wall of flames and you,” Wynn said. “Don’t have a lot of time to think. It’s like stop it now, or that neighborhood behind us is going to go.”

The fire came so close it singed his hair, Wynn told the station, but four-mile-long fire line kept the neighborhood safe. CalFire took over the effort Saturday.

A call in the night

Derek and Tashi Kennedy had been preparing their Santa Rosa home, bought 11 months ago, for the arrival of their first child when a friend called at 2:30 a.m. Monday.

A fire was racing toward them, the friend said. The Kennedys grabbed a few items and fled, not realizing those possessions would be all they had left after the blaze incinerated their home, reports KRON.

A GoFundMe account has been created for the couple, who are expecting their baby in April.

‘So wonderful’

Susan and Tony Narducci knew their Napa home had been destroyed, but they held out hope for a survivor.

When police took the evacuees to the ruins of their home, the couple found their cat waiting patiently in the driveway, reports KTVU.

“So wonderful,” Susan Narducci said.

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