Nick Triglia heard an explosion and noticed a hot, electrical smell in the air before he saw the orange glow near Highway 128 that signaled a fire about to bear down on his Knights Valley home after midnight Tuesday.
He and his wife, Holly, got out fast, along with the dog they'd adopted hours earlier. And for a time, they could only watch and wait for volunteer fire crews to come to their rescue.
"It was just her and I watching this incredible fire — like these big oaks — going straight for our house," Triglia, a Calistoga letter carrier, said. "I wouldn't have given you 10 cents for the house at that point. I thought it was gone."
In all, at least 300 fire personnel were called into service on wildland fires in Sonoma and Napa counties Wednesday at the start of what officials predict will be an especially bad fire season.
On what would be a busy morning for fire crews around the North Bay, brought on by high winds and hot, dry conditions, the home the Triglias have rented for 19 years northwest of town did survive, if barely.
Half of it was gutted by flames that erupted around 1:20 a.m., apparently when a wind-blown tree brought down power lines and blew up a transformer at the edge of the highway, about 100 yards from the house.
The remainder of the house had significant smoke damage, though it can be rebuilt, thanks to the efforts of the Mountain Volunteer Fire force, Triglia said.
According to what one firefighter told him, another five minutes and the house would have been ashes, Triglia said.
"I'd be looking at complete rubble, and we're not," he said. "The house can be repaired. We lost a few things that are valuable to us, but the bottom line is we're happy to be here and alive and well."
Despite weather conditions that prompted a red flag warning for high fire danger, firefighters kept the flames to about 150 square feet around the Triglias' house.