101-year-old Santa Rosa man now among firestorm’s victims

The 101-year-old Santa Rosa resident is the latest of 23 Sonoma County victims to be named by coroner’s officials.|

A 101-year-old man who got as far as the front door of his burning Fountaingrove home before telling his wife to run to safety without him was the latest victim to be identified Thursday by coroner’s officials as one of 23 people known to have died in Sonoma County in last month’s wildfires.

Flames from the rampaging Tubbs fire threatened from every direction when Tak-Fu Hung and his wife, Helen Hung, 76, peered into the night in search of a way out of the inferno, his daughter and granddaughter said Thursday.

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, they said.

“He told her, ‘Just go,’” Rosanne O’Hara said by phone from San Francisco, describing her grandfather’s last moments. “He would not make it. He couldn’t make it.”

Tak-Fu Hung died at the house on Hanover Place, one of 43 lives taken across Northern California by the fires that erupted Oct. 8.

Helen Hung briefly sought cover against a low wall in the front yard, then lay for hours on a neighbor’s driveway as flames raged around her, family members said.

She suffered multiple burns but survived the fire and is recovering in a skilled nursing facility, haunted by what happened. She lay alone on the hot pavement for five hours before successfully reaching someone who could help, they said.

“The flames went over her repeatedly, but she was far away from brush, so that the fire wasn’t constantly on her,” Rosanne O’Hara said.

A nearly 20-year resident of Santa Rosa, Tak-Fu Hung was remarkably healthy as he approached his 102nd birthday and had only recently begun walking some of the time with a cane.

He was born in 1915 in a rural area of China’s Anhui province in the days before civil war resulted in Communist rule.

He fought as a general with the Kuomintang against Mao Zedong’s revolutionary army, and when the Communists won, fled to Hong Kong and then Taiwan, his daughter, Annie Yen O’Hara, and granddaughter said.

During a brief sojourn in Hong Kong, Hung met his first wife, Lijan Ho, who would die at age 46. Hung, a civil engineer, built houses in Taiwan while the couple raised six sons and a daughter.

Then, with only the youngest in tow, they moved to San Francisco, where Hung retired.

All of their children eventually joined them in the United States, immigrating to attend college or obtain graduate degrees, Annie O’Hara said.

An affable, engaging man who deeply loved his children and grandchildren, he was often the center of lively conversation and “was really good at commanding a room,” his granddaughter said.

The tri-level house in which he and Helen Hung lived was where Annie O’Hara and her husband had planned to spend their retirement.

In the meantime, it was the family’s gathering place, big enough to hold as many of Hung’s six children, 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren as might be able to attend a given holiday or event. The San Francisco clan visited often.

An assortment of aging bouquets, a potted yellow chrysanthemum and a small printed portrait of Jesus on Thursday graced what had been the front porch of the house atop a sloping lane just east of Parker Hill Road, in an area completely leveled by the most destructive wildfire in California history.

Annie O’Hara said there are different flowers left for her father every time she drives by.

The Hungs had sought the cool air of a downstairs room on the night the fire started, eschewing the third-floor master bedroom, Annie O’Hara said.

When Helen Hung awoke to use the restroom, she thought she noticed an orange glow and opened the blinds to discover the world was on fire, O’Hara said. The couple had not received any call or emergency alert, family members said.

Helen Hung got a wet towel and awakened her husband of 46 years, guiding him up the stairs to the ground floor level to prepare to make their escape.

She went into the garage but, due to a power outage, couldn’t open the automatic door and wasn’t able to budge the manual lever, either, Rosanne O’Hara said. That’s what sent them to the front door and their tragic parting.

“It was impossible,” Annie O’Hara said. “Everywhere, fire.”

Helen Hung suffered burns on her arms, hands, legs and hips. She spent about a month in the burn unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and was then moved to a skilled nursing facility.

Though most of the county’s fire victims have been identified, Tak-Fu Hung’s name had been withheld pending DNA testing needed to confirm his identification, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said.

The Coroner’s Office also has now confirmed the deaths of Marnie Schwartz, 68, and Mike Grabow, 40, both of Santa Rosa.

Results are still pending on two final tests needed to complete the list of 23 names, Crum said.

The other 21 have now been identified.

All missing person reports from the fires have been cleared, Crum said.

Many of the fire victims, like Hung, were elderly or infirm and apparently unable to escape the flames that arrived on their doorstep.

Friends and family members will celebrate Tak-Fu Hung at a funeral on what would have been his 102nd birthday, Saturday, Nov. 25.

Relatives were searching Thursday for the one photo they know of him that did not burn in the fire. The service will start at 10:30 a.m. at McAvoy-O’Hara Evergreen Mortuary, 4545 Geary Blvd., in San Francisco.

“My dad liked a party,” Annie O’Hara said. “So we’re going to do that - have a party for him.”

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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