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Family escapes Larkfield neighborhood as flames approach

The remains of a car sits near the Fountaingrove Inn Hotel as it burns at rear in Santa Rosa, Calif., Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

RANDI ROSSMANN,

Screaming “Fire!” while pounding on doors and ringing doorbells, Larkfield resident Brad Sherwood and neighbors ran from house to house early Monday, trying to roust residents in the northern Santa Rosa subdivision along Chelsea Drive.

Flames were sweeping down into the Larkfield neighborhood near Cardinal Newman High School from the nearby Mayacamas hillsides.

Safe with his family later Monday in Sacramento, Sherwood recounted a harrowing escape as the flames approached his family home of four years as much of his residential community off Old Redwood Highway burned.

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“It was more of the glow that I remember, deep dark orange glow. The air got so thick you could barely breathe. Then the power went out,” said Sherwood, Sonoma County Water Agency’s spokesman. “I’m (was) so scared. The fire moved so fast and I know there are so many people in our neighborhood.”

He felt lucky, having had possibly a few minutes head start because the family puppy Henry woke him needing to pee about 10:30 p.m. Sunday. After letting the dog out, Sherwood smelled smoke and decided to drive up Mark West Springs Road to see investigate. It was about 11 p.m. and there was no sign of fire. A smoky “blood moon” suggested otherwise, but nothing so close and moving so fast.

About an hour later, an automated phone call came telling neighbors to evacuate. Fletcher Skerrett, a neighbor and a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy, was in his patrol car with the lights on, alerting the neighborhood.

Sherwood, who was outside called his wife at the house: “It’s the real thing, get out!” Then he and others ran down the street door‑by‑door alerting neighbors.

Sherwood let his chickens loose and hoped for the best for the family turtles while his wife, Brandy, readied their two young children.

He pulled the family van onto the lawn just outside the front door. His wife threw boxes of treasured photos and family history into the van – which the family had packed previously — and she and Grant, 7, and June, 5, the puppy, two cats, four parakeets and hastily packed suitcases headed out, bound for family in Sacramento.

Before Sherwood could leave in a second car, an 85-year-old neighbor told him the power outage kept her garage door from opening and she couldn’t reach the emergency release to get her car out.

“I pulled the emergency rope and made sure she got in her car and saw her drive off,” he said.

With his family on its way, Sherwood headed to the county’s emergency services command center to work.

But his wife, like many others, got stuck in traffic and found herself in another dire situation.

“She was stuck on (Highway) 37 with flames all around her,” Sherwood said. “She and a bunch of other cars turned around getting away from the lower Napa fire.”

Sherwood left work to get to his family, swinging by the Fountaingrove and Mendocino Avenue intersection, seeing the historic Round Barn burning. Due to heavy evacuation traffic on Highway 101 and other obvious routes they headed west to Bodega and drove south on Highway 1 before cutting over to get to the Sacramento Valley.

“I guess I have Henry the puppy to thank for waking me up,” he said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have known there was a fire until the call came.”

Later Monday Sherwood heard the news he’d feared: His house was destroyed except for the fireplace. A neighbor who’d gotten close enough to the area told Sherwood “he could see right through (entire streets). There was not a structure standing through the whole community.”

But the family had followed advice from friends to place valuables, wedding memories and baby pictures all together in a box, ready to go in an instant. Brandy Sherwood even got her wedding dress out.

“There are so many lessons to be learned from this, in terms of preparation, whether earthquake or fire,” Sherwood said. “Have your special memories already in a place ready to go.”

Monday night, Sherwood was anxious to return to see what he could salvage, connect with neighbors and make plans for rebuilding.

“This was our dream home. We loved the neighborhood, loved the community, loved the people,” Sherwood said. “I want that community back. I’m not going to let this fire take that away from me or my kids or my neighbors’ kids.”

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.