Families search for the missing in the Sonoma County fires

Damage to the Larkfield/Wikiup area caused by the Tubbs fire. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)


Family members haven’t heard from Garry Foutaine since a deadly firestorm late Sunday night and early Monday swept over his Larkfield-Wikiup neighborhood northeast of Santa Rosa.

“We’ve tried his phone, but he’s not answering. We tried email. We’re all worried,” said his niece, Lisa Fair, 44, of Medford, Oregon. “We don’t know what to think.”

Family members called friends and relatives. They reached out to the Red Cross. Since the flames erupted, no one had heard from Fair’s 71-year-old uncle who was recovering from a hip replacement. Unable to reach his roommate, friends drove there to search, but weren’t allowed onto Candelight Way where he’s lived for well over a decade.

Foutaine, a Navy veteran, is among hundreds of residents who remain unaccounted for in Sonoma County.

Wednesday there were 285 reports of people still missing. Sheriff’s officials said 315 people had been located by deputies since Sunday night.

Sheriff’s search-and-rescue teams began looking for unaccounted people Wednesday morning, Sheriff Rob Giordano said. The search efforts were limited in scope and could be stopped if conditions worsen, he said.

Misti Harris, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, said all reports of missing people go to a sheriff’s investigation unit, which begins tracking down residents by calling friends, hospitals, ambulances and other sources.

“It’s a difficult time for everybody,” Harris said. “We understand how hard it is not to be able to track a loved one, and we’re doing everything we can to track people.”

Stephen Gallagher, 52, counts his blessings. After reporting his father, retired Sonoma County Superior Court Judge John Gallagher, missing Monday, the 79-year-old man turned up hours later at his daughter’s house.

“He wasn’t located until 3 in the afternoon Monday,” Gallagher said about his father, who was ordered to evacuate his Foot Hill Ranch Road home after midnight Sunday.

The elder Gallagher and his wife, Wendy, left their home of 40 years in separate cars. While his wife headed for their daughter’s house in the Montecito area, the sick, confused and likely overwhelmed judge drove into downtown Santa Rosa.

“The older you get the more emotional trauma can cause physical problems,” said Stephen Gallagher, who lives in Sacramento.

Out of desperation, Monday morning he contacted the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Rosa police and The Press Democrat.

“I had no way of getting there” from Sacramento, he said. “All the roads were shut down. I had no choice but to beg.”

“We’re one of the lucky ones,” he said, saying he had no concept of the fire’s destruction and how many people were reported missing.

Jeff Sloan combed news and social media sites, looking for any sign that his 91-year-old father-in-law, Rod Fagan, a resident of Varenna at Fountaingrove, was still alive.

Sloan and his wife, Sharon, were in San Rafael visiting a friend when they awoke Monday to the news of the fire.

“I’m looking on Facebook pages to see if anyone else posted (something), and Twitter feeds, but nobody seemed to know,” said Sloan, who lives in Chico.

His father-in-law accidentally left his phone behind when he and other residents were evacuated to an emergency shelter. A friend’s family later picked him up and drove him to San Rafael, unaware Fagan’s daughter and son-in-law were frantically searching for him.

“We were like everyone else,” he said. “Everyone was in the same boat trying to find their loved ones.”

Lisa Fair said her family continues searching for her uncle — her mother’s eldest brother, described as 5 feet 8 inches and bald with an eagle tattoo on his back. Fair said she last saw Fountaine at a relative’s funeral Saturday.

“My mom is shook up,” said Fair, who returned to Oregon after the funeral. “It’s hard for me. I can’t exactly go down there and help. It’s not like I can get through, anyway, (with the fires).”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458. Staff Writer Nick Rahaim contributed to the story.