The rugged hills north of Napa were Sally Lewis’ enchanted childhood playground.
As a young girl, she came north from her San Francisco home to spend summers at her Great Aunt Lucy’s cottage, which overlooked the hot springs resort her great-grandfather developed in the 1870s. With her horse, Tony, and her dog, Pooch, Lewis freely explored the slopes of Atlas Peak and the shuttered springs property, a period that helped instill within her a fiercely independent streak and lifelong love of the outdoors.
“She was a nature gal, all right,” said Lewis’ daughter, Windemere Triados.
Lewis, 90, and her caretaker, Teresa Santos, 59, were killed Oct. 8 by the Atlas fire. The pair died despite a harrowing rescue attempt by Triados and her family, who raced from their home in Vacaville to try to evacuate them that night. After ramming her SUV through a driveway gate, Triados and her husband, Marlon, found the home engulfed in flames, a “fire tornado” circling skyward.
Instead of saving herself, Santos stayed beside Lewis until the end.
“She was a wonderful, kind person, very loving and very caring to my mother,” Triados said.
Born Sally Eaves, the city girl would find her connection to nature and her family’s rural Napa property deepen with age.
Her great-grandfather, John Putnam Jackson, a colonel in the union army, purchased the Napa Soda Springs property in 1872, building the resort and sparkling water company into successful enterprises before they slowly fell into decline after his death in 1900s. The ruins of the resort remain to this day.
“It’s a magical property. It’s just beautiful there,” Triados said, noting that the views extend to San Francisco on a clear day.
After husband Bill Lewis’ unexpected death in 1966, Lewis raised her two daughters, Windemere and Dixie Lewis, of Cazadero, on her own. She also was forced to take over her husband’s school bus company, and at the time was one of only two women in the state to hold a vehicle dealer’s license.
“My mom was ahead of her time,” Triados said. “She was an independent woman before that was a cool thing.”
Lewis, who loved to fish and hunt, took her daughters on regular camping trips in her yellow Ford Galaxie 500 convertible.
After she inherited the cottage from her aunt, Lewis spent more and more time on the remote Soda Canyon Road property, weekends at first, and then, after her Berkeley home was destroyed in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, it became her permanent, peaceful abode.
“The house was so beautiful. Everything was original,” Triados said. “It was like stepping back into the 1920s.”
When her health began to suffer several years ago, Lewis would hear nothing of leaving her retreat. Even the prospect of having in-home care was something “she fought us tooth and nail about,” Triados said.
But she came to accept the arrangement. Her grandson stayed with her on weekends to give Santos, who did not drive, some time off. Santos, a native of the Philippines, lived in Fairfield, and her family could not be reached.
Lewis celebrated her 90th birthday just a few weeks before she died, surrounded by family in the home she loved.