Like so many people Monday throughout the region, Sky Farm Drive resident Germain Hauprich wanted to know if her house was still standing near the top of the drive in east Santa Rosa.
She, her husband and 86-year-old mother who uses a walker, and their two Labrador dogs escaped the fast-approaching fire from their east Santa Rosa neighborhood about 1:30 a.m. after getting an automated call to evacuate immediately.
Hauprich already had been awake with worry, from the swirling winds and the thickening smoke. “I started to go to the car, open doors and throw things in. I could see the red glow coming from the hill across the street,” she said.
A firefighter came by and repeated the warnings to neighbors, she said, grateful for the presence and the warning.
The three adults and two dogs loaded up into two vehicles and headed down the hill, rendezvousing with numerous neighbors at Safeway on Mendocino Avenue.
“It looked like a tailgate party. Everybody was there,” she said. Except no one was having fun, and when the power went out at Safeway and a friend called from Fountaingrove to say they could hear explosions she and her family moved to a Rohnert Park Safeway parking lot, seeking distance, light, supplies and a restroom.
Unable to book a hotel or motel room, they went to family in Tracy. But Monday, far from home, she worried. Four Sky Farm neighbors were keeping in contact hoping for news about their homes and growing more fearful as unconfirmed social media reports included that the neighborhood had been “wiped out.”
For Hauprich, whose family has lived near the top of the drive off Highway 12 since 2003, hope was dwindling.
“We have the dogs. We have ourselves, our purses and our wallets and of course we have insurance. It’s not the end of the world,” she said, looking for some solace in the awful day. “We just want to know.”
Lori Barekman, who lives on Park Gardens Drive in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, said her 11-year-old daughter Mariana woke her and her husband Wade Eakle at about 1:45 a.m. alerting them to the smell of smoke.
“We could see so much smoke and all the reflections of the fire from our back deck,” Barekman said, adding that after conferring with other neighbors, she and her family decided to evacuate before a formal evacuation order was issued.
Barekman left with Mariana, her husband, her 16-year-old son Logan and a friend who was visiting. She said everyone she knows of in her neighborhood evacuated.
“No one that I know of stayed,” she said. “We were on the top and it was coming toward you. All of our neighbors are out.... The main thing is we’re all safe. We’re all good.”
Katy Masingale’s GMC Yukon was one of dozens of cars waiting in line for fuel at the Valero gas station on Redwood Highway North in Petaluma. The 25-year-old and her husband Justin Masingale had been watching the news all night from their Penngrove home, and finally decided to evacuate around 9 a.m.
They grabbed their four dogs and 2-year-old daughter Rylee, packed up a bunch of clothes, diapers, water and camping gear and were headed south to a family member’s home in Novato.
“I’m really, really nervous,” she said. “I didn’t think it would ever get this crazy.”
Joy Reid first woke up to the smell of smoke at 1:30 a.m. By 2:30 a.m., the smoke was so bad that she decided to get up and see what was going on.
From where she lives on the north edge of Journey’s End Mobile Park, the 57-year-old could see the flames licking the roadway. That’s when people started pounding on doors, telling them to get out.
At that point, evacuations were still voluntary. She grabbed her cellphone, work phone, purse and backpack, got in the car and headed south.
“There were flames and there were big balls of ash coming over into our park, landing in the driveway, the entranceway,” she said.
“I’m just nervous because I have no idea.”
When Nancy Shumacher evacuated her home at Brookwood Mobile Home Park in Rincon Valley around 2 a.m., she had to leave her five cats behind.
“I’m scared to death that everything is gone,” said the 69-year-old. “I couldn’t get them out, they were all hiding and I felt like I needed to go.”
From her home looking north, she said, the entire northern edge appeared to be in flames. She grabbed her purse, medications and cell phone, and she and her dog Molly headed to the Oliver’s Market parking lot on Montecito Boulevard while she figured out what to do.
“I sat there facing north for quite a while and watched the orange glow,” she said.
Eventually, she decided to try to find a shelter and headed first to the police station on Sonoma Avenue where a young officer told her she needed to get out of town.
“He said you need to get on Highway 101 and drive south and keep going,” she said. “So that’s what I did.”
If Avani Gupta hadn’t already been awake when her friend Shaishav Rajendra called to tell her to evacuate, she doesn’t know how long it would have been before she found out about the fires raging near her Coddingtown-area apartment complex.
“I was already up, otherwise my phone was on silent,” said the 25-year-old. “And I never got an alert on my phone or anything.”
It was the smoke that got her up in the first place, but she figured it was just a small fire, maybe one in the complex or nearby.
Rajendra, 25, found out through one of his coworkers at Keysight Technologies.
“He said that they were evacuating this area, there was a wildfire, so I left at 3 o’clock and called these guys and asked them to evacuate, too,” he said.
By 3:30 a.m., their complex was under mandatory evacuation orders.
Together, Rajendra headed to the Finley Center first, as did Gupta and her roommate Soniya Kamath, 27. But when they got there, they realized they hadn’t grabbed anything, and doubled back to gather important documents.
“But that’s all we got, no clothes or anything,” Rajendra said.
Pedro Alquezada was at home with his wife at their Cedar Avenue home in Sonoma when he got the call from his brother-in-law, checking in on the family to be sure they were packed and ready to go. They weren’t. Not even close.
“He said hey guys, you have to be ready because maybe Sonoma will burn,” Alquezada, 46, said. “I was like OK, so what do I take?”
He and his wife Maria Zamudio, 52, gathered what they could: some clothes, jewelry, and important documents.
His daughters had spent the night with their mother at her Sonoma home Friday night, awaking to their mother’s urging and flames nearby.
“It was scary,” said Amber Alquezada, 20, who works at Glen Ellen Market, and had already heard rumors that perhaps it burned in the blaze. “I was scared because the flames were so close. Usually when you see fires, they’re really fair. But this time we could actually see flames.”
She gathered her sister and headed to their father’s home. Piling in the family van, they headed to the Lucchesi Center in Petaluma about 3:45 a.m.
“We’ll stay here, and we’ll see what happens,” Pedro Alquezada said. “I told them it’s all material, at least we’re alive.”
Santa Rosa’s normally bustling downtown was ghostly Monday afternoon, with a thick smoky haze hanging in the air and a permeating, eerie quiet. Of the few people wandering Fourth Street were 77-year-olds Nancy and Jack Swearengen, wearing face masks. Evacuated from their home in Spring Lake Village and seeking shelter at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, they were on the hunt for coffee.
“We evacuated but we didn’t bring laptops we didn’t bring books to read, one couple found a deck of cards so they could play some bridge,” said Nancy Swearengen. “This is way more than we ever imagined.”
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeaWarren.
You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or email@example.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.