In the 16 years he’s lived on the tree-lined neighborhood beyond the Molsberry Market in Larkfield, Glen Hurley had never heard anything like the sound that woke him around 12:30 a.m. Oct. 9. A local real estate agent with a second business refurbishing homes for resale, Hurley says he likes to sleep with a window open.
“What got my attention” he recalled, “was the sound. It was different. Something wasn’t right.” When he decided to go outside and investigate, he found the sky above the nearby Pacific Heights neighborhood a glowing orange. “It was loud, noisy,” he said. “Do you know the sound jets make when they land and throw on the reverse thrusters to slow down? It was like that.”
Then his phone rang. It was a PG&E autocall. There was a brush fire, the recording said, 20 miles away, heading toward his area. The recording, he said, suggested residents consider evacuating. In fact, the fire, driven on gale-force winds down Mark West Springs Road, was just around the corner. Hurley threw on clothes, forgetting his socks, gathered his three chihuahuas, cleared his safe, put them all in the truck and started it. His girlfriend, Leslie, was out of town at a conference. As he paused, trying to decide what other things he should take, he suddenly realized there was no one else out on the entire street. Up and down the block, houses were dark, driveways were still. He was the only person up.
Leaving the truck running, Hurley first headed across the street, and began banging on doors. “You don’t realize,” he said, “just how hard it is to wake people up by pounding on their door.” After a full minute of trying to rouse his neighbors, Jean and Jen Couderc –– “which is a long time to be thumping and shouting at someone’s door” –– Jean appeared, sleepy, and asked him what was going on.
“We gotta go,” he told her, then started up the block to wake others. For half an hour he continued to get people up and moving along the smoky, windy street. As people responded, Hurley helped his neighbor, Ben, hitch his trailer, so he’d have a place to sleep.
“The fire department, the police, no one ever came,” Hurley said. “There was no other warning.”
Hurley realized it was time to go himself when streams of glowing embers began blowing up the street. Two of Hurley’s neighbors made it down Redwood Highway to the Kmart. Surrounded by flames, one hit the gas and drove on through; another, close behind, was forced to turn back and onto the freeway.
“I don’t think I’m what you could call a hero,” he said. But his neighbor across the street, Jean, has told him over and over how much she thinks he is, with heartfelt thanks, a card. She was still in bed, asleep, unaware. When she opened the door that night, and she asked Hurley what they should do, she recalled how he told her, “Get out now.”
Hurley remembers being a kid in Southern California when the Corona fire raced overnight for 25 miles, pushed by Santa Ana winds, all the way to the city of Orange where he lived. So, he wasn’t surprised what high winds could do. In Larkfield, Hurley said, he was one of the lucky ones. While three tracts of homes around his burned, right up to across the street, his was spared.
“I am grateful that we had very little damage. We are safe. We still have jobs and purpose. I feel sorry for the people who lost their homes. Hopefully, we can make a difference in some peoples’ lives in the rebuilding process.” Hurley is working on a fixer property, and getting people back into houses as quickly as possible.
Looking back, Hurley reflected on how the experience affected him.“I guess it is a little bit like driving by a nasty automobile accident. You are shocked, saddened and a little happy you were somewhere else when it happened. I feel sad when I see the great loss. You remember it, and it makes you a little more conscientious, but you have to move on.”
His advice for all now is to take the time to make a list of what to grab if you only have 60 seconds to escape. You won’t have the luxury of figuring it out when it’s time to run, he said.
The folks who lived near him in Larkfield are forever grateful that he remembered his neighbors.