Michel Azarian, a 41-year-old engineer for Santa Rosa-based Keysight Technologies, who loved to hike, travel and document his experiences in photography, died this week from severe burns he sustained last month fleeing his Mark West Springs home in the deadly Tubbs fire.
The death was confirmed Wednesday by coroner’s officials in Sonoma County and in Sacramento County, where Azarian, a native of Lebanon, had been in care at UC Davis Medical Center.
He was the 24th person killed in Sonoma County by the unprecedented firestorm and the 44th death from fires that erupted the night of Oct. 8 across Northern California.
Azarian was found before 10 a.m. Oct. 9 after a neighbor heard his cries for help and alerted a CHP officer on a motorcycle, said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, who, along with an ambulance crew, came to his aid as he was lying in a clearing near his heavily forested home on Redwood Hill Road.
“He looked burned, I would say, over about 80 percent of his body,” Baxman said. “He was talking to us, which surprised me. We were trying to make sense of what he was saying. He was mumbling.
“He did say he’d been there for hours. We were trying to put it together.”
Baxman estimated the man had been overtaken by flames at least eight hours earlier when the wind-driven Tubbs fire blew through the region, incinerating thousands of homes. Twenty-two people are known to have died in the blaze.
Azarian was eventually taken to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where doctors treated his burns for almost seven weeks. There, he was visited by loved ones, including work colleagues. He was unable to speak or see, but he did communicate through nodding and hand gestures, said Jay Alexander, Keysight’s chief technology officer.
He described Azarian as “very high-energy, very upbeat and friendly.”
“Just a lot of energy for life and work,” he said.
Azarian was born in the mountainous town of Zahlé, Lebanon. His father, Mihran Azarian, died when Michel was young, according to an obituary prepared by a close friend, Khachik Papanyan. He told KQED that the elder Azarian was killed in the Lebanese civil war.
Michel Azarian studied at the prestigious American University of Beirut, where he graduated at the top of his class with a degree in electrical engineering before attending the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 for his master’s degree.
From there, he was hired by National Instruments, where he worked as an engineer, before moving to Linear Technology’s Dallas office.
In 2014, the avid outdoorsman was thrilled to move to the tech company’s San Jose office, where he savored the beauty and hiking Northern California had to offer, said his friend and Keysight colleague, Samir Moalla.
He moved to Santa Rosa in February after being hired as an engineer at Keysight, Moalla said. The men became fast friends, bonding over their journeys to America — Moalla is from Tunisia — and food.
“Food, obviously food,” Moalla said, laughing. “I invited him over with my family, and then we became friends. He met my wife, my kids, and I learned that he was a hiker. I tried to convert him into a cyclist, and he tried to convert me into hiking.”