The 40 lives lost in the North Bay fires spanned generations and geographic divides. They included teenage siblings and couples who spent decades together. They were parents and grandparents, military veterans and caretakers. They were refugees from foreign revolutions, professionals who’d found their calling and retirees who’d made their mark. Several were spouses whose loved ones survived. Nearly all died in the initial firestorm that erupted Oct. 8. Their contributions to our community will not be forgotten. Here, we chronicle the lives they lived.
Click on the names below to read the full story.
Mark West Springs Area
Michel Azarian, 41
Surrounded by mountains in his hometown of Zahlé, Lebanon, Michel Azarian grew up hiking and exploring nature. When offered a position as an engineer at Santa Rosa’s Keysight Technologies in 2014, he jumped at the chance to savor the beauty and trails the region had to offer.
Carmen Caldentey Berriz was 18 when she left her native Cuba in 1959, shortly after Fidel Castro and his guerrillas took control of the island and entered Havana. It was in Havana where she at the age of 12 first met Armando Berriz, a 13-year-old boy she’d one day marry after settling in Miami. “They kept in love, in touch and fervently dedicated to each other,” said Meissner, of Agoura Hills just outside of Los Angeles. “Even Fidel could not stop them.”
Mike Grabow was the kind of guy who could make a good friend within minutes of meeting the person, according to his family. “He would just give you the shirt off of his back,” said his sister, Lindsay Osier. “He went beyond and beyond for people to make them feel good in their lives.”
Art and Suiko Grant were avid gardeners, transforming their 3½-acre property in the hills off Reibli Road into a “veritable Garden of Eden,” with every type of fruit tree imaginable, recalls their daughter, Trina Grant. Grant met his future wife in Honolulu, where she was working for a Japanese company. He had been dating her roommate but when he caught site of Suiko at a party, he decided she was “The One.”
LeRoy and Donna Halbur left rural Iowa nearly five decades ago, but their Midwestern roots and values remained strong amid a life dedicated to community service, guided by their Catholic faith. “They weren’t complicated,” said Tim Halbur, of Los Angeles, the oldest of the Halburs’ two sons. “They were salt-of-the-earth people who just got things done. And they were warm, loving, very tolerant, and very understanding people.”
Wildlife biologist Monte Kirven, who scaled cliffs to reach the nests of peregrine falcons on the brink of extinction and helped revive the threatened population, told his children his lifelong passion for falcons began in Tennessee when he was 15 and working in a taxidermy shop.
Veronica “Roni” McCombs was the kind of woman who would drop everything to help her family. A sharp, independent and creative soul, she loved the arts and in her early years owned a shop specializing in custom clothing and design pieces.
Lynne Anderson Powell got up at 5 a.m. every day, hitting the trails near her house with her husband and their four border collies. If she wasn’t out training her dogs on agility, she was in her quilting studio or meeting with friends. She stayed busy, even while battling cancer.
Sharon Rae Robinson led a quiet life on the northern hills of Santa Rosa, where neighbors knew her as a sweet, soft-spoken and unassuming artist who quilted, weaved and painted. She never boasted about her work, some featured in magazines, national and international competitions and museums, including the Smithsonian.
How Christina Rose Hanson loved to dance. An advantage of dancing while seated in a wheelchair was that it caused less wear and tear to her shoes. A confirmed people-person with a glowing personality, 27-year-old Hanson had no interest in allowing leg paralysis from spina bifida to isolate her from others or from life.
Tak Fu Hung, 101
Flames from the rampaging Tubbs fire threatened from every direction when Tak-Fu Hung, 101 and his wife, Helen Hung, 76, peered into the night in search of a way out of the inferno. But even with a wet towel draped over them, Tak-Fu Hung didn’t see how he would survive the violent storm and told his wife to try to get out on her own.
Carmen McReynolds, a retired physician who specialized in internal medicine, lived a life of unwavering independence, according to her relatives and friends. Outside of work, she loved to read, play music, shoot rifles and, up until about a decade ago, ride motorcycles.
What Marilyn Ress wanted most in life, was to assist and care for people who struggle and, if possible, to bring them a little joy. The diminutive, 1965 graduate of Petaluma High School worked for decades as a certified nursing assistant and after that was an in-home caregiver for people unable to tend to themselves.
Linda May Tunis, 69
Linda Tunis sold her condo outside West Palm Beach, Fla., and moved to Santa Rosa earlier this year to be near her daughter, Jessica. The two were tight. They would see each other three to four times a week and talked on the phone every day. Ten months after moving to Santa Rosa, Linda Tunis, 69, died as the Tubbs fire flames swept through the Journey’s End mobile park.
A roofer until a back injury ended her career, Aycock, 56, lived a quiet and for the most part solitary life in the Coffey Park home she’d inherited from her parents. The Santa Rosa High School alumna was caring and helpful, and as a bonus from her years of working in the construction trades was extremely handy.
Carol Collins, 76
A world traveler, real estate agent, journalist and fiercely loyal friend, Carol Collins died on Oct. 9, when the Tubbs fire consumed her Coffey Park neighborhood, and with it the house on Hemlock Street she purchased in December 2014.
Valerie Lynn Evans showed a knack for driving commercial tractor trailer rigs and winning equestrian contests, especially with her cutting horse Zero Inc. “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.”
Described as both hilarious and sweet, with a ready smile and the heart of an activist, Marnie Schwartz devoted her professional life to teaching English as a second language. She also trained English-language teachers at state conferences and supplied free instructional materials through a web site she and several partners developed.
Tamara Latrice Thomas, 47
Tamara Latrice Thomas, 47, died when the devastating Tubbs fire swept into Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park, destroying the residential care facility where she lived. She grew up in St. Louis and moved with her mother and two adult brothers to San Francisco about 25 years ago. Soon after, a tumor left her disabled and confined mostly to a wheelchair. She was in and out of Bay Area hospitals before arriving at the Santa Rosa facility in the period before the fire.
Dan Southard, 71, reveled in physical activity. He loved the ocean, took his son mountain biking in Annadel and found happiness hiking to Gunsight Rock on Hood Mountain. From the age of 14 until he was 65, he went to the gym five days a week.
Lee Chadwick Rogers of Glen Ellen mostly kept to himself, but those who knew him described him as a big, physically active man who loved nature and working on his 40-acre property on Cavedale Road overlooking Sonoma Valley.
Michael Dornbach was a big, burly man with lots of tattoos and a big truck. But behind the gruff exterior, he was known to his family as a big teddy bear who’d give his mother, Maria Triliegi, of San Ped-ro, a kiss good night most evenings. A former longshoreman with a passion for fishing, Dornbach was visiting family in Calistoga when the fire struck.
As a boy growing up on the family ranch in the Southern California desert, Garrett Paiz told his older siblings he wanted to be a cowboy, a trucker and a fireman. He did all three. Firefighting became his true passion, battling wildland blazes. Paiz was the only firefighter killed in the October fires, which drew more than 10,000 firefighters to multiple counties.
Relatives aren’t sure exactly when George Chaney and Edward Stone first laid eyes on each other, but a cousin of Stone’s says it was sometime several decades ago, when his mother had cancer. Chaney, a Napa radiologist, was one of her doctors. “There was a lot of laughter, humor and they certainly supported each other for many, many years — stood by each other forever,” said Paula Chaney, George Chaney’s niece. “I just always thought of them as a team and never questioned anything else. They completed each other.”
Charles “Peach” Rippey and his wife, Sara, fell in love in grade school in Wisconsin and were together ever since. The devoted couple stayed together even in their final moments, dying inside their home in east Napa as the ferocious Atlas fire blew out the windows and collapsed the roof.
As a young girl, Sally Lewis, 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.
After a harrowing rescue attempt, Lewis, 90, and her caretaker, Teresa Santos, 59, were overtaken by the Atlas Peak fire.
Irma Bowman was raising two sons on her own in the 1960s, soldering parts for military aircraft in San Diego County, when she left the boys with a trusted neighbor and attended a square dance. That night, she met her soulmate, Roy Bowman, a soil scientist with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, who was taken by Irma from the start.
Decades working for Pacific Bell brought Steve Stelter and Janet Costanzo into each other’s lives, and led them to the piece of solitude they shared in Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley, where they lived in retirement. The couple of 27 years were easy-going and inseparable.
Knitting needles flew with precision in Barbara Jane Gardiner’s hands, turning out woolen sweaters, scarves and couch throws treasured by friends and several generations of family members who considered her creations one-of-a-kind wonders. Gardiner, who went by her middle name, died in the fire that destroyed her home Oct. 9 and killed her longtime caregiver, Elizabeth Charlene Foster, 64.
He had adorable, deep dimples and a shy demeanor that belied strong opinions. She was a sunny and bright high school junior who had a gift for drawing and dreamt of designing characters for Disney. Kai and Kressa Shepherd were the youngest victims of October’s wildfires, their lives taken far too soon.
Margaret Stephenson, 86