Surrounded by mountains in his hometown of Zahlé, Lebanon, Michel Azarian grew up hiking, and when work brought him to Northern California in 2014, he savored the beauty and trails the region had to offer.
It was one of the reasons he chose to live where he did — just off Mark West Springs Road, surrounded by woods and nature.
The Keysight Technologies engineer documented his passion for travel and the outdoors on his Instagram account, @michelazarian, where he showcased dramatic sunsets, mountain vistas and cityscapes. Africa was the lone continent he had yet to visit.
On Oct. 5, the 41-year-old outdoorsman posted his final Instagram photograph: a richly colored image of a road shrouded in autumn leaves on a blue-sky day.
Four days later, he was found barely conscious, lying in a clearing near his home. Overrun by the Tubbs fire in his forested neighborhood on Redwood Hill Road, he had suffered burns over 80 percent of his body.
A neighbor heard his cries for help and alerted a CHP officer on a motorcycle, said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, who, along with an ambulance crew, came to his aid just before 10 a.m.
“He was talking to us, which surprised me,” Baxman said. “We were trying to make sense of what he was saying.”
Azarian was taken to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where doctors treated him over the next seven weeks.
Samir Moalla, a colleague and close friend, along with other Keysight employees, reached out to others close to Azarian. They found his mother, Berjouhy Toukhtarian, in Lebanon and arranged for her visa and flight to California to see her son. Cousins and friends from across the country flew in to stand watch by Azarian’s side, Moalla said.
“It would not be an exaggeration to say he had more than 100 to 150 visits,” he said.
Azarian succumbed to his injuries Nov. 26.
Moalla remembers his friend as “very high-energy, very upbeat and friendly.”
He studied at the prestigious American University of Beirut, where he graduated at the top of his class with a degree in electrical engineering before attending the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 for his master’s degree.
He moved to Santa Rosa in February after being hired as an engineer at Keysight, Moalla said. The men became fast friends, bonding over their journeys to America — Moalla is from Tunisia — the outdoors and food.
“I can tell you he’s a special individual,” Moalla said. “He was a very smart and responsible individual, and he’s so very creative. … It’s no accident that he was able to get where he was (in life).”