It’s been four weeks, but there are so many stories still to be told, that deserve to be told.
Stories about narrow escapes like that of Kaylynn Reeb, 68, of Geyserville, who is thankful for her husband’s weak bladder “for saving our lives.” As William Boutin, 71, got up at 5 a.m. on Oct. 9, he looked out the window “and saw there were flames just 20 to 25 feet away from the house.” He quickly got Kaylynn and their three dogs into their Toyota Corolla and started down their 600-foot driveway, only to find their path blocked by a large toppled oak tree. As William ran to the tool shed to get his chain saw, Kaylynn prayed that the machine still had some gas in it. It did. But as William worked with only a small flashlight to cut through the dark and the smoke, the flames spread to three sides of the house. It got so close, “my wife could hear the popping of the pine cones” from the heat, he said.
Ultimately, he managed to slice through the trunk blocking the road and another part of the oak that had fallen against a second tree. “I basically cut a tunnel through the branches that was just wide enough to drive through,” he said. With that, they made it down the hill to safety. But their house on a 40-acre spread between River Road and Ridge Oaks Road was a total loss, one of only three houses lost in the Pocket fire.
Then there are stories of those who somehow managed to escape devastation like that of Tebentz Bein, 60, a member of Santa Rosa’s tight-knit Eritrean community, who, while many families were fleeing Coffey Park, was fighting to get back in. She had left her home on Coffey Lane about 1 a.m. to pick up a cousin who was being evacuated from her residence along Calistoga Road and had no car. As they returned, the hills were aglow and the traffic was getting heavy. As they drove along Cleveland Avenue, Bein could see Kmart and other businesses burning. Fire trucks were behind them as they continued along Hopper Avenue. The power was out and the streets were so smoky and dark, Bein couldn’t read the street signs and didn’t recognize the corners. So why was she so eager to return? Because she had seven other children and grandchildren still back at her house. “I was scared,” she said. “I couldn’t find my street. As people came out to see the fire, I said, ‘Where is the Coffey Lane?’ ”
Ultimately, after a wrong turn, she somehow managed to locate her house and evacuate everyone to safety. She then woke up neighbors and drove to two other houses to get family members there evacuated as well. In all, eight families from the Eritrean community lost their homes, some of family members included, but, miraculously, hers was not among them. The fire stopped just two houses down from hers. But the relief was short-lived. At some point after they were evacuated, her house was ransacked and looted. Her son’s MacBook was stolen along with her TV and a number of other things including family jewelry from her home country. Nonetheless, when the Eritrean community gathered in Roseland on Saturday for support, Bein catered the event.