The Press Democrat remembers the 40 lives lost in the North Bay fires. Click here for more of the stories.

Valerie Lynn Evans showed a knack for driving commercial tractor-trailer rigs and winning equestrian contests, especially with her cutting horse, Zero Inc.

An animal lover, she kept a female Texas longhorn named Angel, a horned, mostly white bovine that freeway motorists could spot in a lot near Evans’ rural home along Highway 101 in northwest Santa Rosa.

“She did everything that people said women couldn’t do,” said her son, Houston Evans Jr., of Santa Rosa. “She was better at it than most men.”

Evans died in the early hours of Oct. 9 when the Tubbs fire swept down from the hills near Calistoga and crossed the freeway to reach her home near the north end of Coffey Lane. She was 75.

She was remembered as a determined women who was quick to help others.

“She was tough as nails,” her son said. “She had a heart of gold at the same time.”

Evans grew up on a Michigan dairy farm. She moved to her Coffey Lane property in 1978, a place where she kept such animals as horses and goats.

Today the 2-acre property sits nestled near vineyards. But when Evans arrived, the surrounding land was planted in prune trees, and to the south most of the future Coffey Park neighborhood still lay covered in orchards, her son said.

In Sonoma County, Evans worked many years in the trucking industry, including for the former Crickos Trucking in Cotati. She eventually worked in the office but started out behind the wheel moving goods.

“She would drive the big rigs,” said her daughter-in-law, Victoria Evans. “She would haul chickens. She would haul eggs. She would haul everything.”

Barbara Crikos, one of the trucking company owners, said Evans first entered her life as a truck driver about 20 years ago but went on to become a good friend.

“If I ever had a problem,” Crikos said, “I’d call Valerie.”

As a horsewoman, Evans piled up a collection of medals and trophies from such venues as the Cow Palace in San Francisco. She competed in both cutting horse and reining horse competitions, her family said.

“She was an avid equestrian,” Victoria Evans said. “She loved her horses.”

The riding awards were lost in the Tubbs fire. The flames destroyed the two homes on Evans property along with about a half-dozen other houses on Coffey north of Dennis Lane.

When the blaze reached northwest Santa Rosa, Evans’ property was occupied by her, her son and daughter-in-law and Evans’ former husband, Houston “Glyn” Evans Sr. As a neighbor’s home erupted in flames, the family became separated while preparing to depart.

Evans apparently went back inside her home to retrieve an aged dog, Victoria Evans said.

After the family realized Evans was missing, her son returned with a friend to the home that morning. In the home, they found the remains of Evans and the dog.

“I can’t believe that she’s gone still,” her son said.