A beloved volunteer at an adult assisted-living center. A dad who would always "find the funny" in tough situations. A volunteer firefighter who died far from home while battling a blaze in the North Bay. A couple who had celebrated 75 years together.
They were among the 44 people who perished in the series of monstrous, wind-driven wildfires that brought death and destruction to huge swaths of Northern California, devastating communities in Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties. On this final day of 2017, as we look back on the year and a tragedy that touched so many, we remember those who died, the lives they lived and those they touched along the way.
Here are their stories.
Karen Aycock: 'She Had a Big Heart, Was Always There to Help'
Karen Aycock, a former construction worker who lived alone in Santa Rosa in her Coffey Park home with her cats, died in the Tubbs Fire that devastated the neighborhood.
When Aycock’s niece, Victoria Rilling, learned of her aunt’s death, she felt “heartbreak, utter dismay,” she told The Press Democrat. She was also thankful for the efforts to locate Aycock. “They didn’t give up. Their perseverance is phenomenal.”
Aycock volunteered with animal rescue groups and her cats meant the world to her, Chad Hinden, a former roommate, told the San Francisco Chronicle. She was shy “but she had a big heart,” he said. “If you needed anything, she’d always be there to help you.”
Michel Azarian: A Creative, Globetrotting Engineer With ‘the Kindest Heart’
Michel Azarian, 41, died on Nov. 26 at UC Davis Medical Center from extensive burns he suffered when the Tubbs Fire trapped him outside his home on the outskirts of Santa Rosa.
People who knew him describe Azarian as a natural engineer -- his mind was the right mix of creative and analytical. His talents brought him from tragedy in war-torn Lebanon to the United States, Silicon Valley and eventually Santa Rosa.
Azarian’s father and uncle were killed in the mid-1980s during the Lebanese civil war, his friend Khachik Papanyan said in a phone interview. The family business was destroyed in a bombing.
Azarian helped his mother rebuild and worked in a shop selling bedding in his hometown of Zahle, Lebanon, but he dreamed of attending the American University of Beirut.
Read more about Michel Azarian
He found out the only way he’d have a shot at getting in was an exceptionally high SAT score.
“He was a smart enough guy where he was able to get an amazing score on the test and get admitted,” Papanyan said. “However, that wasn’t enough. They didn’t have enough funds to cover the tuition for the first year.”
Azarian sold land left to him by his father, invested, and sold again, eventually generating enough money to cover his first year’s tuition. He majored in electrical engineering and started earning scholarships.
In 2002, Azarian was recruited to work for National Instruments in Austin, Texas, where he met Papanyan.
“We went to an event, actually a lecture about Greek architecture, and somehow I think I asked a question related to Armenia,” Papanyan said. Azarian, whose father was Armenian, approached Papanyan after the lecture. “That’s how we struck our friendship in Austin, and we’ve been best friends since then.”
Azarian spent eight years in Austin, designing radio technology and other wireless circuitry.
“He was extremely gifted when it came to problem-solving,” said Papanyan, who worked for Dell at the time. “The regular puzzles it would take me a day to solve, he could solve it in the blink of an eye.”
Outside of work, Azarian’s passions led him away from circuit boards and into nature. Papanyan said his friend was elated when he got a new job -- for Linear Technology -- and moved to San Jose in 2014.
“He loved to travel. He loved photography. He loved hiking quite a bit,” Papanyan said. He added that Azarian told him he’d hiked almost every weekend in Silicon Valley and “never had to repeat a trail.”
But he left a community of friends in Texas, including one associated with the Armenian Church of Austin.
“For those of you who had the pleasure of knowing Michel, he had the kindest heart and an incredible lust for life,” wrote Mihran Aroian, parish council chairman for the church, in an announcement of Azarian’s death. “He was also an active globetrotter and a brilliant photographer. He had a robust appreciation both for the quiet beauty in nature, along with fun adventures and laughter with friends.”
Azarian’s Instagram feed contains a mix of landscape photography, vibrant natural close-ups and some urban/architectural shots. Papanyan said the bulk of Azarian’s photos are believed to have been stored on his home computer, destroyed in the fire.
He moved to Santa Rosa about two years ago, Papanyan said, and took a new job with Keysight Technologies there.
Papanyan said he wasn’t sure whether Azarian was at home on Oct. 8, the night the fires hit Santa Rosa, or if he was outdoors and trapped by the wind-whipped wall of flames that roared across the hills from Calistoga.
Either way, he couldn’t get out, and appears to have tried to take shelter in a small clearing near his home. That’s where he was discovered the next day, with severe burns on more than half his body.
“It’s just amazing that he was able to survive the whole night being surrounded by the firestorm,” Papanyan said.
Thus began some six weeks of hospital visits to Azarian’s bedside at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Azarian couldn’t talk -- his throat was blocked by a ventilator.
“The only way he could communicate was with his hand,” Papanyan said. “He would actually write out the letters and we would try to decode what he was saying.”
A family friend went to Lebanon to bring Azarian’s mother to his bedside. She had been with him for the past few weeks, Papanyan said.
Keysight Technologies helped support his mother’s room and travel, according to friends and high-ranking executives, who joined her in Azarian’s hospital room many times.
He died Sunday, according to information from Cal Fire, UC Davis Medical Center and the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office.
“He was an intelligent, fun-loving, nature-loving guy that always had a broad smile on his face, was always there for his friends,” Papanyan said. “He’s now in the heavens, and he will be with us in our memories forever. It was an honor, a great honor, knowing him.”
Carmen Caldentey Berriz: Beloved Mother and Grandmother
Carmen Caldentey Berriz, 75, died in the arms of her husband, Armando Berriz, a man from whom she’d been inseparable since they met in Cuba when they were young. The couple, married 55 years, had been on vacation with family in Santa Rosa when the Tubbs Fire erupted.
When their car got stuck on a fallen tree as they fled, the pair decided to seek shelter in a swimming pool at the vacation home where they’d been staying. Carmen held onto Armando, who was keeping them afloat by hanging onto the sides of the pool, KTVU reported. She died in the pool.
"Everything they did was as a team," daughter Monica Ocon told KTVU. "They had this bond and this strength that literally lasted a lifetime."
Berriz, from Apple Valley in San Bernardino County, is survived by her husband; daughter Monica Ocon and her son-in-law, Luis Ocon; daughter Carmen T. Berriz; son Armando J. Berriz and daughter-in-law Catherine Berriz; and seven grandchildren, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“I talked to her every day,” Monica Ocon told the Chronicle. “It’s an amazing bond that I had with her. I will forever try to be like her.”
'They Were Holding Each Other': Roy and Irma Bowman of Redwood Valley
The past two years were not the easiest of Roy and Irma Bowman's more than half-century together. Roy needed triple-bypass heart surgery early in 2016, a procedure that required a long convalescence. Family members had to persuade Irma to leave his bedside to eat and sleep.
"She would spend the night there if we wouldn't have made her go home," said Elizabeth Bowman, who is married to the Bowmans' son, Gary, and lives in Medford, Oregon.
Read more about Irma and Roy Bowman
Earlier this year, Roy Bowman suffered a stroke that put him back in the hospital and left him struggling to speak.
"He knew who we were and would try to say our names," said Elizabeth Bowman. "The fact he couldn't talk was very rough on him. He would get agitated, so he worked very hard on regaining his speech.
The Bowmans — Irma was 88, Roy was 87 — were still emerging from that crisis last month when a wildfire charged across a nearby ridge and toward their home in a development set amid vineyards and oak woodlands in the Mendocino County community of Redwood Valley, north of Ukiah.
All 22 homes in the development burned in the fire early Oct. 9. The Bowmans were among nine people killed or fatally injured in a 1.5-mile-long corridor along Tomki and West roads.
"They must have been in bed," Elizabeth Bowman said. "The fire marshal told us that they were holding each other when they found their remains."
The Bowmans are remembered as intensely devoted to their family, to their churches and to each other. They had been members of the Assembly of God congregations in both Ukiah and Redwood Valley and were well-known and loved for their usually unadvertised generosity.
"They were very dedicated to the Lord and very dedicated to their church," said the Rev. Jack McMilin, pastor of the Redwood Valley Assembly of God. "Any time there was a need or any time there was a campaign for something, they always wanted to be involved as far as supporting it financially."
McMilin said that at a memorial service for the Bowmans, members of the congregation talked about how the couple had helped them with various needs -- in one case, for instance, paying the tuition for a family that was otherwise unable to send its children to a local religious school.
"When I pass away, I'd like to be that well spoken of," McMilin said. "It was pretty amazing the things people said."
Roy Howard Bowman was born in 1930, the descendant of Oregon pioneers, and graduated from Oregon State University in 1954 with a bachelor of science degree in general agriculture. He served in the Air Force, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel. After his military service, he worked as a soil scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He's listed as the author and editor of several Soil Conservation Service studies of California counties, including San Diego, Santa Cruz, Placer and eastern Mendocino.
Irma Elsie Wobschall was born to a German-American family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1929. She emigrated to San Diego by 1950, married, had two sons, and divorced. She later studied art at Palomar Junior College, in the northern San Diego County town of San Marcos.
Elizabeth Bowman said Irma met Roy at a square dance in San Marcos. They dated for a year or so and were married June 13, 1965. After the wedding, Roy formally adopted Irma's sons — Gary and Mark — "and gave them his name," Bowman said.
She added that her late mother-in-law was a creative force — a skilled visual artist and an accomplished baker and chef.
When Elizabeth and Gary Bowman married, "She made our wedding cake -- a four-tier wedding cake. It was wonderful -- she was very artistic and could bake anything."
Elizabeth Bowman said the family is still grappling with its grief over the deaths — a process she doesn't expect to end anytime soon.
"It's going to take time," she said. "It's going to take a long time."
George Chaney and Edward Stone Loved Traveling and Collecting Art
Napa Valley resident Don Judah said he was out on his deck sometime between 9:30 and 10 p.m. on Oct. 8 when he noticed fire coming down the ridgeline across the valley.
"I told my wife, 'Call George to get his ass out of there now,' " Judah said.
Judah's wife, Margaret, called their good friend George Chaney, 89, who lived with his lifelong partner, Edward Stone, 79, on Atlas Peak Road.
The area has a history of fires. Chaney’s shed had burned down in swept the countryside in 1981, but his house survived.
Margaret Judah got through to Chaney on the phone. He told her he couldn’t see anything. She said he and Edward would come to their house.
Fifteen minutes later, she phoned again to see if he’d left the house yet.
“He says, ‘Margaret, my house is on fire,' ” Don said. Then the line went dead.
Don and Margaret tried to get up the hill to see if they could help Chaney and Stone, their friends of nearly half a century, get out. Within a mile of their house, the fire was so intense the two had to turn back.
On Thursday, Oct. 12, Don got word from officials that George Chaney and Edward Stone had died in their home.
Read more about George Chaney and Edward Stone
Originally from Texas, Chaney moved to Napa in 1958 to work as a radiologist at the newly opened Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa. Don met Chaney in 1960, when Chaney hired him to work in the radiology department.
"He was an excellent physician and radiologist," Don remembered. "He just had a manner about him that was always kind of calm. He wasn’t a volatile person at all."
Don said Chaney's leadership helped keep Queen of the Valley's radiology department on the cutting edge of medical imaging technology.
"He knew where we were going, and he wanted to do the best he could for the patients," Don said.
Chaney's partner, Stone, worked for Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco.
After Chaney and Stone retired, Don said, they spent a lot of time traveling together to Europe, Asia and Africa. Don and his wife often joined them.
"I know they really enjoyed travel," he said. "I would say the two enjoyed classical music and artwork. George had an Asian art collection with Chinese screens and Japanese sculptures."
Don said the pair had excellent senses of humor.
"The thing about most of the dear friends I have is there’s a bond you have," Don said. "Humor is what hangs us together and keeps us together."
Carol Collins-Swasey Remembered for Her 'Wicked Sense of Irreverent Humor'
Carol Collins-Swasey was known by close family and friends as an independent, strong-willed woman with a “wicked sense of irreverent humor.”
And in typical fashion, she insisted on writing her own obituary.
“She didn’t want them saying a bunch of flowery crap about her,” said Staci Peyer-Reupke, a close friend. “She just wanted it to be funny.”
“If you are reading this, I am dead,” she wrote in the obituary that her family incorporated into a larger one published in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “And no, I did not look this good when I checked out.”
Read more about Carol Collins-Swasey
Collins-Swasey, 76, a Santa Rosa real estate agent and former journalist, died on Oct. 9 in her Hemlock Street home near Coffey Park in the Tubbs Fire that devastated her neighborhood. Her husband of 27 years, Jim Swasey, was out of town.
Born in January 1941 in Louisville, Kentucky, Collins-Swasey grew up with three brothers, and bounced between her divorced parents’ homes in Georgia and Chicago.
In the obituary the family published, one brother remembered her as "a bit glamorous and a bit demanding, but always magic.”
Collins-Swasey went on to study journalism at the University of Iowa, and after working briefly as a journalist in Los Angeles, headed north, She eventually settled in Santa Rosa, where she lived for the remaining 30 years of her life, working as a Century 21 residential real estate agent.
“I was blessed with some talents and was successful in several professional fields,” she said in her obituary notes. But she added: “I never stayed long with anything -- jobs, houses, husbands or friends -- until moving to Sonoma County.”
Collins-Swasey was an avid traveler and a committed community volunteer, most recently helping out at Sutter Hospice Thrift Store on Sundays.
Her friend Peyer-Reupke, a regular at the thrift store, said she was drawn to Collins-Swasey’s giving nature and fun-loving personality. “I think that’s what I’m really going to miss the most,” she said. “She once told me she didn’t want a memorial service when she died. She wanted a party.”
Collins-Swasey underscored that wish in her obituary notes: “Instead of feeling obligated to attend a memorial service -- and there won't be one -- contribute to a charity of your choice, and give a friend an extra hug today.”
In addition to her husband and brothers, Collins-Swasey is survived by a son and multiple stepchildren.
Stanley Coolidge, a Noted Attorney Who Loved Riding a Motorcycle
Stanley Coolidge leaves behind a legacy as a noted attorney, loving father and grandfather, short story writer and prolific volunteer.
According to his obituary in Marysville's Appeal Democrat, Coolidge was 78 when he died at his Yuba County home in Loma Rica on Oct. 9 during the Cascade Fire. His obit reports that he was with his fiancee, Roseann Hannah, who also died in the fire.
Read more about Stanley Coolidge
Born in San Francisco on May 17, 1939, Coolidge, who went by "Stan," earned his law degree from UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall and was admitted to the bar in 1965.
Coolidge had three children. One son, Andrew Coolidge, told KRCR News that he and his father spoke nearly every other day.
"This fire was a complete tragedy," Andrew Coolidge told the television station. "It was fast and it was terrible and I know a lot of people are concerned about the property damage, but when you're dealing with losing someone close to you, losing a loved one, it really makes all of that other stuff very much not important."
Stanley Coolidge's obituary tells the story of a man who dedicated his life to volunteering and giving back to others. According to his obituary, he also loved to ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and was a longtime member of The Americans Motorcycle Club, which raises funds to cure childhood cancer.
A joint service was held for Coolidge and Hannah on Nov. 3 at Veterans Memorial Hall in Yuba City.
Friends Were Like Family to Janet Costanzo
Janet Kay Costanzo was warm, smart, spunky and a real trailblazer, her friends said.
“She wanted to work a man’s job so she could make a man’s wage," said Reeah Winkle, who was 8 years old when she met Costanzo. “And that’s what she did. She drove trucks at Pac Bell, just like my dad.”
Costanzo lived in the Mendocino County community of Redwood Valley with Steve Stelter, Winkle’s father. Both died in the October wildfires that swept through Mendocino County.
Read more about Janet Kay Costanzo
Costanzo, 71, was found inside her home in Redwood Valley. Stelter, 56, was found near a vehicle. The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said it appears he was attempting to evacuate.
Costanzo had lived in the valley for about 10 years and it suited her outdoorsy personality, Winkle said. “She was a very smart woman; she knew a lot about everything.”
One of Winkle’s first memories of Costanzo was the time she was allowed to ride her horse.
“She was around horses all of her life,” said Robert Costanzo, who dated Janet in the 1970s.
He remembers Janet as a “warm, friendly, outgoing person.” The two lived together in her mother’s house on Coolidge Avenue in Oakland. She took Robert’s last name in order to get health insurance at the time, he said. She kept the name for the rest of her life.
Her dad lived in Southern California on several acres of land and had a few horses, Robert recalls. “She used to like to do dressage and trail rides,” he said.
Janet Costanzo also bred cats. She had a parrot and two dogs, Riot and Annie.
She and Stelter moved from Oakland to her aunt’s property in Redwood Valley roughly 10 years ago. "They had a lot of land up there,” said Steve's brother, Doug Stelter.
Doug moved into a trailer on the property about five years ago. The three of them would go on walks together, watch television -- "American Pickers" and "Deadliest Catch" were favorites -- and they would take turns cooking dinner and then eat together almost every night, said Doug.
"She was a good person," he said.
“They were taken from our lives too soon," said Winkle. "We love them very much and they remain in our hearts."
Vietnam Vet David Culp Leaves an Empty Spot
David Patrick Culp, 76, a Vietnam veteran, died on Oct. 10 in the Cascade Fire that swept through his Loma Rica neighborhood in Yuba County.
“People came by and told him it’s getting too close, he had to leave, but being the stubborn vet that he was, he decided to stay with his equipment, figuring he could stop it,” Mike Saala, a friend, told CBS Sacramento.
Culp piloted UH-1 “Huey” helicopters during the Vietnam War, according to an obituary on the website of the Foothill Lions and Lioness Club in Marysville. He was a regular at the club on Thursday nights.
Michael Dornbach Was Searching for His ‘Little Piece of Heaven’
Michael Dornbach came to California with his family when he was just 10 years old. They settled in the small West Marin town of Inverness, where he learned how to fish for salmon on Tomales Bay. His mother, Maria Triliegi, said he became a great fisherman, always winning the jackpot in any competition he entered.
Triliegi remembered how much her son loved the water. Not just the ocean, but lakes and rivers, too.
“That’s why he was so anxious to get his little piece of heaven,” she said.
Dornbach, 57, lived in San Pedro but came to Northern California in October, searching for that piece of heaven. The family was hoping to buy a small piece of land close to the Klamath River, someplace where he could build a cabin, fish, plant a garden and watch the stars at night.
Triliegi said he wanted to live out in the open, like the guys in his favorite movie, “Lonesome Dove.” But he didn’t want to be all alone out there.
“The cabin would have enough room for his mom and family members to come and stay,” Triliegi said. “His family was everything to him.”
Dornbach was staying with family on an 18-acre property in rural Calistoga when the October Tubbs Fire tore through and claimed his life. Triliegi said. “My biggest sadness is that the land he loved so much, in the finality of it all, took him.”
Dornbach is survived by his mother; a brother, Joshua Triliegi; a sister, Laura Dornbach; as well as aunts, uncles and cousins.
Valerie Lynn Evans: 'A Real Cowboy-Type Girl'
Valerie Lynn Evans loved horses. She grew up around them as a child and continued to raise and show horses as an adult. That was one reason she was so happy in her home on Coffey Lane in Santa Rosa -- she had space for her horses and plenty of beautiful places to ride.
“She was a real cowboy-type girl,” said her husband, Houston G. Evans Sr., who himself spent time working as a rodeo cowboy. In fact, that’s how the two met.
It was Nov. 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was shot. Houston was scheduled for a rodeo in Las Vegas that was canceled because of the assassination, so he drove to Los Angeles to see if he could work a rodeo there instead. He approached a group of people talking out front, one of whom he knew, and met Valerie. They went to a party together and were soon dating, marrying a few years later.
Read more about Valerie Lynn Evans
In the early morning hours of Oct. 9, the couple woke to a fire outside their window. Houston said they had only a few minutes to get out of the house.
Valerie wanted to save the horse trailer parked in the yard, so her husband, who is 88 years old and suffers from gout, went down the road to get the tractor. When he turned around, the house was an inferno. He rushed back, but Valerie wasn’t where she said she’d be waiting.
“I almost knew instantly that she went back into the house to get the dogs,” Houston said. He fled, barely escaping with his own life. Their son, Houston Evans Jr., and his wife, Victoria, used their knowledge of the back roads around his parents' house to find a way around closures, eventually reaching Evans Sr., who had taken cover behind a shed down the road.
“I haven’t seen anything like this since I was in the war,” the elder Houston said.
Valerie, who was 75 when she died, loved their home in Santa Rosa, working “every kind of dirty lousy job you can think of to pay for this place.”
She operated a Caterpillar tractor at the dump and drove trucks for several companies in the area. She even worked as a dispatcher in Santa Rosa, a job her husband said she had to quit. “It was too much for her to handle, people getting killed and murdered. It would give her nightmares.”
Raising and showing horses was Valerie’s passion. The couple traveled all over the country to compete in horse shows, often bringing home ribbons and trophies. She loved to ride in the beautiful countryside around Santa Rosa and in the Southern California mountains when the couple lived there.
“She enjoyed life," her husband said. "She enjoyed friends; she enjoyed nature.”
Valerie Lynn Evans is survived by her husband, Houston G. Evans Sr.; a son, Houston G. Evans Jr.; and her daughter-in-law, Victoria Evans. The family plans to hold a memorial service for Valerie sometime in the spring.
Barbara Jane Gardiner and Elizabeth Charlene Foster: A Creative Soul and Her Caregiver
The walls and halls of Barbara Jane Gardiner’s Mendocino County home in Redwood Valley were her museum.
Gardiner was a creative soul, according to her obituary in the Ukiah Daily Journal. From the beaded earrings to the knitted crafts, her personality was as vibrant as the colors she chose in her personal art pieces. She collect painted glass art and fashionable handbags. Her needlework was intricate, along with the never-conforming art she made.
According to her obituary in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Barbara Jane Gardiner moved to Redwood Valley with her husband Eugene Vincent Gardiner about 1980.
On Oct. 9 at 1 a.m., she called her stepson, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, to tell him that fire had surrounded her home. She was with her caregiver, Elizabeth Charlene Foster.
Foster was 64 years old. The two lived together on Tomki Road in Redwood Valley.
According to the county sheriff’s department, Gardiner told her stepson that she and Foster were waiting for the fire department to evacuated them from their home. They didn’t survive.
“Her signature smile and high-pitch, jolly laugh will echo in the hearts of those who loved her,” said Barbara Jane Gardiner’s Ukiah Daily Journal obituary.
Mike Grabow 'Instantly Made People Feel Better About Themselves'
The morning before the Tubbs Fire swept through Santa Rosa, Mike Charles Grabow was in a local bar giving away hope bracelets. He'd bought them for friends as a way to donate to breast cancer research.
Grabow's sister, Lindsay Osier, said he often gave generously to those around him.
Read more about Mike Grabow
“He was always giving money to charities and wherever he could find ways to help out,” Osier said. “He didn’t require anything back. It was all freely given.”
Grabow was 40 when he died. Osier misses her brother’s hugs.
“The hugs that he gave me would take all of the problems away,” she said. “He just instantly made people feel better about themselves and encouraged you to be a better human being.”
Grabow lived in Northern California for the past five years and had a tight-knit circle of friends. They remember his energy and his love of craft beer.
“I’ll remember him for how much he loved everyone around him and how fully he lived his life,” said Rachael Ingram, one of his friends.
Earlier in his life, Grabow lived in the Pacific Northwest. He eventually moved back to Idaho, where he was born and lived for most of his adult life.
He loved the outdoors and found lots of opportunities to enjoy it around Boise. Osier said that when Grabow was young, his grandfather took him fishing a lot, and that is when he was truly the happiest. Grabow also liked to snowboard, hunt and golf.
As for work, he showed his independence by being self-employed in jobs that allowed him to be outside, such as landscaping and construction.
On Oct. 26, friends and family celebrated Grabow at one of his favorite places to grab a beer, Cooperage Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa. They raised money for fire relief efforts in his name.
“There’s a huge community of people that are missing him right now,” Ingram says.
Retired Navy Pilot Arthur Tasman Grant ‘Would Do Anything to Help Somebody Out’
Like his wife, Suiko Grant, Arthur Tasman Grant loved spending time with his granddaughter, Sloane.
The retired Navy lieutenant and Pan Am Airlines captain also relished sitting in the sun watching the birds ride the updrafts, having a beer and sharing his stories about all the years he spent flying airplanes. “Those little things, and his garden, which really was his realm,” says Grant’s daughter, Trina Grant, of her father’s many favorite pastimes.
Grant was 95 at the time of his death in the Tubbs Fire. He and his wife, who also died in the blaze, fled to the wine cellar of their hilltop Santa Rosa home to escape the flames.
He is survived by daughters Tasman Grant of San Francisco and Trina Grant of Denver, as well as his granddaughter.
Read more about Arthur Tasman and Suiko Grant
Grant grew up in Point Arena on a dairy farm. He had 12 siblings. He joined the Navy during World War II, where he trained as a fighter pilot. After retiring from the military, he worked for Pan Am for 25 years.
Trina Grant remembers her father’s innate kindness. “He would do anything to help somebody out,” Trina Grant says.” In addition to being an accomplished aviator, Trina Grant said, her father was an extraordinary artist.
But cooking wasn’t among his many skills.
Trina Grant fondly remembered the time she was home from college, grievously sick, at age 18. This was before cellphones. Her mom was away, and she needed her father’s help.
“It took me two hours to drag myself along the floor from the bed to the phone, whereupon I finally called him,” Trina Grant said. “He leapt into action, bringing me microwaved mushroom soup that was barely lukewarm and not particularly appetizing. But he came and brought it to me with such good intention, that despite how horrid the soup was, at that moment, it was the best meal I’d ever had.”
The family asks that donations be made to veterans support organizations or to the Arthur and Suiko Grant Memorial Fund.
Donna and Leroy Halbur Were Always Prepared for an Extra Guest
Donna Mae Kearney was born Aug. 10, 1937, in Iowa City, Iowa. Four days later, LeRoy Halbur came into the world in Roselle, almost due east and 200 miles across the state. They died together, Oct. 9, at their home in the Larkfield area of Santa Rosa, at the age of 80.
In between, they married, had careers, two sons and two grandchildren. Over the years they welcomed many people into their home.
They first met in Iowa, after Leroy was out of the Army and Donna had graduated from college, which she had left a Catholic religious order to attend. They married on Aug. 12, 1967. Some 40 years ago, they moved into the hillside house on Angela Drive, next to a vineyard.
Read more about Donna and Leroy Halbur
LeRoy was a CPA and worked for over 30 years at the real estate company Codding Enterprises, becoming a vice president. Donna, with her degree in education, worked as a substitute teacher in elementary schools and later as a reading specialist. He was the serious financial guy, she the creative free spirit, says their son, Tim Halbur.
“They were both Depression-era kids,” he says. “So they always had a full pantry and full freezer and were ready to feed people.” LeRoy, too, had Catholic roots, and he practiced rather than preached a life of service. Three nights a week, he delivered food to the poor.
The couple loved to travel and once a year took the family on a big trip -- Mongolia, the Nile, China. At home, they played pinochle. That was the family game. “Every time we got together, it was the rhythm of our house,” says Halbur. “Eat a meal, clear the table, play some games.”
In August, Donna and LeRoy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and for the occasion Tim created a video tribute, in which you can see snapshots of their life together. The song is Glenn Miller’s“ Moonlight Serenade.”
They are survived by their two sons, Tim and David Halbur; their daughters-in-law, Michelle Halbur and Amy Heibel; their grandsons, Travion Jackson and Rowan Halbur; and siblings, Jolene, Linda, Ken, Duane and Glen Halbur; and Cecil, Paul and Marcella Kearney.
Roseann Hannah, Cascade Fire Victim, 'Prided Herself on Being a Great Mom'
Roseann Hannah died in Yuba County's Cascade Fire on Oct. 9. She and her fiance, Stanley Coolidge, loved adventuring together. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, they would ride Coolidge's motorcycle from his home in the community of Loma Rica up the coast to Oregon or to the beach in Mendocino County, where Hannah enjoyed spending time.
The newspaper tribute said Hannah was visiting Coolidge in Loma Rica when they both died in the Cascade Fire. She was 53 years old.
Hannah lived in Grass Valley with her 26-year-old twin sons, Jeffrey and Jordan Hannah. Her obituary said she was a loving mother and friend who "loved her boys and doing things with them and for them."
In addition to her two sons, Hannah is survived by a grandson, Aleczander Hannah.
Christina Hanson Shared Her Smile with Santa Rosa
Christina Hanson shared one thing with everyone — her smile.
"Your smile was infectious," wrote Santa Rosa resident Meg Barry in one of many tributes posted online for the 27-year-old Hanson. "You made my babies laugh, and we relaxed in the sunshine sharing jokes with one another. It was one of those moments where I felt like we’d known each other for a long time even though we’d just met."
Read more about Christina Hanson
Hanson was well known in her community and was close with her spiritual family at Spring Hills Community Church in Santa Rosa.
Hanson died Oct. 9 at her home on Wikiup Bridge Way in Santa Rosa, a month shy of her 28th birthday. Hanson's apartment in the Mark West Springs neighborhood was overrrun by the Tubbs Fire.
For days she was listed among the missing as her family and friends circulated photos asking for help in locating her.
She was a much loved volunteer at Primrose, a local adult assisted living center specializing in memory care.
"She had a connection with seniors her whole life," said her cousin, Brittney Vinculado. "Maybe it was because of her own mobility issues."
Hanson was born with spina bifida, a spinal condition that affected her mobility and caused her to spend a lot of time in the hospital as a child. She was also very close to her grandmother, Vera Hanson, who passed away earlier this year, and Vinculado said talking and enjoying time with elders came naturally to Hanson.
Her father, Michael Hanson, lived in a separate apartment on the property. He was badly burned in the fire and his family believes he was trying to rescue his daughter when he was overcome by smoke and collapsed outside. He is still recovering from his injuries.
"The fire came down the road and it was in the middle of the night, so people were sleeping and unaware and no evacuations had started. And they were one of the first neighborhoods hit," said Vinculado.
Hanson was very fond of animals and for many years was seen with her guide dog, Zulu, at the side of the wheelchair she used to help her move around.
Most recently she adopted Joey, a terrier mix. The dog managed to make it out of the fire with minor burns on his paws.
In middle school Hanson enjoyed playing basketball on an adaptive sports team. She was known for her love of singing, especially anything by Celine Dion.
"She had a great sense of humor and a very positive attitude," Vinculado said.
Hanson was a talented craftswoman, especially with intricate work involving her hands. She loved making beaded jewelry to give as gifts for friends and family. She also learned American Sign Language, and her family says she was very good at interpreting for people with hearing impairments.
On the online tribute page, Christine O'Neil Frazier wrote: Your wit and wisdom touched everyone. You taught us all how to be better people. The world needed your love and kindness, but heaven needed you more."
Christina Hanson is survived by her father, Michael Hanson of Santa Rosa; her stepmother, Jennifer Watson of Santa Rosa; a grandfather, Richard Hanson of Oakley; and a grandmother, Rose Diaz of Dublin.
The family suggests donations to the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
At 101 Years Old, Tak-Fu Hung Could Still Command a Room
By all accounts, Tak-Fu Hung was a remarkable man. He would have turned 102 on Nov. 25, but instead, his family held his funeral on that day.
Hung died in his Fountaingrove home, on the eastern side of Santa Rosa, a victim of the Tubbs Fire. According to accounts by his family (in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat), he couldn’t get out of his house fast enough as the flames approached. He told his wife of 46 years to flee, and he perished in the fire. She sustained burns but survived.
Born in 1915, Hung held the rank of general with the Chinese Nationalist army defeated by Chinese Communist forces after World War II. Hung fled to Hong Kong and then Taiwan, where he worked as a civil engineer, before moving to the Bay Area, according to his family.
They described him to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat as a man who loved his children and grandchildren and “was really good at commanding a room.” He only recently began using a cane to walk, and “liked a party” according to his daughter, Anne O’Hara.
He is survived by his wife, six children, 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
How Monte Kirven Helped Save the Peregrine Falcon
Sitting around a dinner table with Monte Kirven meant an evening of entertaining tales. Maybe he’d talk about the time he scaled cliffs to reach peregrine falcon nests in his efforts to conserve the species.
Or he’d talk about the trips he led to Baja California in Mexico to see gray whales -- including the time he had to patch a car tire using a lighter, tequila and a tooth from a plastic comb.
Sometimes he’d talk about his time in the military, or the birding trips he led to Africa.
Read more about Monte Kirven
Whatever his tale, whatever his task, Kirven approached all things with passion and intensity.
Kirven died in his home in the Mark Springs West neighborhood in Santa Rosa on Oct. 9, when the Tubbs Fire consumed his house. He was 81.
Kirven’s love for nature began during his childhood in rural Indiana, where he spent much of his time outdoors. He fished and hunted from a young age. He later turned these passions into his academic focus: He majored in biology at the University of Mississippi, got a master's degree focusing on Caspian and elegant terns at San Diego State University, and later got a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Colorado.
In 1961, he married Valerie Quate and they had three children, raising them mostly in San Diego. His daughter, Kathleen Groppe, recalls a childhood full of adventure. She says her father always spearheaded wildlife rescue projects -- and used their house as a base camp.
She remembers injured ducks, falcons and other birds. Sometimes the animals would be in the backyard, other times they’d take up residence in the bathtub. The goal was to release them back to the wild, but if that couldn’t happen, Kirven would pass the healed animals off to the San Diego Zoo.
Groppe remembers his passion for falcons especially. He worked with them tirelessly and always had one or two of the birds. These experiences sparked Groppe’s own academic pursuits in ecology.
Notably, Kirven was part of a team of scientists who helped show that the use of insecticide DDT led to the thinning of peregrine falcon eggshells. DDT was subsequently banned in 1972.
Still, in 1978, there were only 19 known pairs of these falcons in California.
Kirven’s former employer, the Bureau of Land Management, quotes him saying: “Humans brought these birds to near extinction, and we have a moral obligation to bring them back.”
To rebuild the population, Kirven and colleagues would take peregrine falcon eggs from nests, and replace them with porcelain fakes. The real eggs were hatched at UC Santa Cruz, and then cautiously returned to their home nests and mothers.
Accessing these nests often required scaling steep cliffs, which Kirven did enthusiastically. Through these efforts, the American peregrine falcon was removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife in 1999.
Through the years, Kirven became increasingly passionate about environmental conservation and efforts to curb climate change. He funneled this energy into teaching undergraduates at Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College.
It’s ironic, his daughter Kathleen Groppe notes, that something he worked to combat -- climate change -- could have contributed to his demise.
Beyond nature, Kirven had an extraordinary love of people. He’d host dinners after returning from fishing or hunting to share his goods. The evening before his death, he threw a celebratory party for friends and workers who had just finished construction of his new roof.
He made them steaks and turkey with stuffing, and he opened a fancy bottle of wine to share. He went to sleep that night content, having lived another day to its fullest.
Monte Kirven is survived by daughter Kathleen Groppe of Lancaster, Texas; sons Kenneth Kirven of San Diego and Brian Kirven of Point Reyes Station; sister Marcia Gray of Helena, Montana; ex-wife Valerie Quate of Poway (San Diego County); and grandchildren Patrick Kirven, Caroline Groppe, Andy Arredondo and Chinzia Pinnamonti.
Sally Lewis, a Napa Native With a Pioneer Spirit, and Her Caregiver, Teresa Santos
A native of the Napa Valley, Sally Lewis died on Oct. 8, when a fire engulfed her Soda Canyon home.
Lewis lived with a pioneer spirit that fit her surroundings. According to the Napa Valley Register, she was an active fisher and hunter. Lewis raised two daughters by herself after the sudden death of her husband. She took over his school bus business and became one of just two female auto dealers in California at the time, the newspaper reported.
Lewis is survived by two daughters, Windermere Tirados and Dixie Lewis. Tirados told the San Francisco Chronicle that her mother was “a down-to-earth person who loved everybody.”
The Chronicle reports that the Soda Canyon Road home where Lewis died at the age of 90 was constructed by her grandparents in 1920 and had been her home for most of her life. In the last year of her life, Lewis received in-home care from Teresa Santos, a native of the Philippines who lived in Fairfield. She also died in the fire at the age of 50 years old. Her family told the Chronicle they wanted privacy to grieve and little was reported about her life and work, but Tirados called her a "fantastic" woman who took good care of her mother.
Family Mourns the Loss of Veronica McCombs
Veronica McCombs was the oldest of six children, and her siblings say that her imprint on them "will live on forever."
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that McCombs died in her home on Oct. 9 during the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa. She was 67 years old.
In her obituary, her siblings write that "throughout her life, Veronica was always there to listen and help her family, siblings, and others who needed the wisdom and care that she gave unconditionally."
McCombs' family is mourning the loss of what her son, Brandon McCombs, calls the family's "foundation" (according to his statement to the Chronicle).
"She devoted her life to the love and care of our family and her community," Brandon McCombs wrote. "As a family we are grieving deeply and she will be missed forever."
Carmen Colleen McReynolds: 'Gutsy and Self-Reliant'
When Carmen Colleen McReynolds was born on Jan. 30, 1935, her father, Joseph McKinley, wasn't present. He had to be quarantined after contracting tuberculosis. He wouldn't meet Carmen until she was 9 months old.
"My grandfather is an important part of my aunt's story," says Gabriel Coke, McReynolds' nephew. It was her father, according to Coke, who inspired McReynolds to become a doctor. "My grandfather became a doctor after his own mother died of tuberculosis, and my Aunt Carmen went on to be a doctor because of my grandfather. She looked up to him."
McReynolds graduated from medical school at the University of Colorado in Denver. She worked as an internist for Kaiser until 1995, when she retired and moved to the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa.
Read more about Carmen Colleen McReynolds
"She was very gutsy and self-reliant," remembered Coke. "She liked to have friends that were also independent. She loved to play the guitar and the piano. She was a big Hank Williams fan, she knew how to shoot a rifle, and she rode a motorcycle until she was in her 70s."
McReynolds, 82, was so tough that her family held out hope that, even with her failing health, maybe she had escaped the Tubbs Fire that swept her neighborhood and destroyed her home.
But nearly a week after the fire, a search team found McReynolds' remains in her garage, inside her 1973 Mercedes convertible.
Coke said his aunt was a trailblazer and a dignified woman who valued her independence. She was married for seven years in the 1960s, he said, but later divorced. McReynolds cared a lot for her family, and although he didn't see her often in later years, Coke said she was always a strong presence in their lives. "She came to my wedding in France," Coke said. "That meant a lot to me because she was very frugal. She spent money on experiences, she wasn't frivolous."
After McReynolds' death. Coke learned that she was deeply committed to charities like the Earle Baum Center for the blind. "There's still so much I'm learning about her extraordinary life."
Firefighting 'Was His Passion': Garrett Angel Paiz
From the time he was a boy, there were two things Garrett Angel Paiz wanted to be when he grew up: a cowboy and a firefighter.
Before his death on Oct. 16, while helping to battle the Northern California fires in Napa County, Paiz, 38, had fulfilled those dreams.
"A cowboy he became by working several ranches across the United States, herding cattle, branding and roping," said his big sister, Cinthia Ann-Marie Paiz of Palm Springs. "Anything a cowboy did, Garrett did. He was also a trail supervisor in Mammoth."
Read more about Garrett Angel Paiz
Paiz served as a volunteer firefighter in Noel, Missouri, too, and was assisting with fires in Washington state when he was called to help fight the Northern California blazes.
"He loved to help and did whatever was needed," his sister said. "Firefighting was not a job. It was his passion. Serving others was his passion."
Early on Oct. 16, Paiz was driving a tanker truck designed to bring water to the scene of the fire when the rig crashed on the Oakville Grade in Napa County. His truck went down an embankment, turning over and landing on its roof. Authorities aren't certain what caused the accident but say fatigue might have been a factor.
Paiz was born in Indio, California, and raised in the town of Mecca. He came from a large family that loved to spend time together and play pranks on one another.
"I will always remember my baby brother as the funny kid who was always up to something," said Cinthia Paiz. "You just never knew what he would get into next."
Paiz graduated from Coachella Valley High School and studied agriculture at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. He came from a long line of men and women who served as first responders and in the armed forces, said his brother, Carlos Paiz.
"We believe that helping others is paramount in life. Standing up for others is just what you do," he said in a statement.
Paiz is survived by his wife, Bobbie Paiz of Noel, Missouri; parents, Judi and Armando Paiz of Coachella; sister, Cinthia Paiz; brother, Carlos Paiz of Coachella; and a daughter, Terri Ann Paiz of Tehachapi.
Carlos Paiz said there were three things he wanted people to do to honor his brother: "Love your family, follow your dreams and serve your community."
Sandra Picciano, Cascade Fire Victim, Loved Animals and Always Helped Her Neighbors
Those who lived near Sandra Picciano in the Yuba County hamlet of Loma Rica remember her as a compassionate woman who always lent a helping hand.
"She helped out with neighbors, taking them to doctor appointments and checking on them when they were sick," said Nadine Webb, Picciano's neighbor of 17 years.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Picciano was 77 years old and had no living relatives. She did have several horses, which she cared for through their old age.
When the Cascade Fire started to blaze, Picciano was quick to leave her home. Authorities said she was killed when she crashed into a tree along the road.
Another Loma Rica neighbor, John Billingsley, told The Sacramento Bee that the smoke from the fire that night was so thick "you could just see a little bit in front of your hood."
Lynne Anderson Powell Thrived on Music, Quilting and Her Dogs
Lynne Anderson Powell woke up every morning at 5 a.m, no matter what. Her border collies, four of them total, needed to go hiking. So she and her husband, George, would take them for a walk in the hills of northeast Santa Rosa, near their home on Blue Ridge Trail, right up to the day before the fire.
Lynne and George were married for 33 years. They met at a holiday party thrown by someone at El Camino Community College in Southern California, where her mother, artist Jean Jenkins, taught. George was a staff photographer there.
Read more about Lynne Anderson Powell
George said they had an instant connection.
“It was just incredible,” he said. They married just weeks after meeting, over Presidents Day weekend in 1984.
Lynne played the flute throughout her life, starting at age 7. She majored in flute performance and music education at Carnegie Tech (later renamed Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh. She was a roommate with lifelong friend Joan Sextro, and they took part in each other’s weddings. Sextro said she always admired Lynne’s strength, honesty and kindness.
“Lynne was a very upfront person,” said Sextro. “You know where you stand with her, yet she was a very kind, warm person.”
When she and George met and fell in love, Lynne was first chair flute in the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. George joined her in Albuquerque so that she could continue to play. After 17 years in the symphony, Lynne began working an office job at Sandia National Laboratories, also in Albuquerque.
The couple retired to Eugene, Oregon, but soon moved to Northern California to be closer to Lynne’s aging parents.
Lynne was devoted to her dogs and trained them for agility trials. She was also an avid quilter, a hobby well-suited to her meticulous and intelligent nature.
“She was the most brilliant person on the planet — there was nothing she couldn’t figure out,” said George.
For the past year and a half, Lynne had been undergoing intensive treatment for salivary gland cancer. Even though the chemotherapy and radiation took a heavy toll, George remembers her strong determination in the face of discomfort. “She was my rock. She took care of me, no matter how much pain she was in.”
Sextro said Lynne was just beginning to get back to normal life, after her cancer treatments, making her death “a double sadness.”
On the night of the fire, the couple woke to smoke and the red glow of the Tubbs Fire sweeping toward their house. George told Lynne to leave with her dog, who slept next to her. He would follow in another car with his three dogs. They planned an escape route, but Lynne did not make it to their meeting place. Apparently blinded by smoke and flames, she drove off the road and crashed down a ravine. Her car and body, along with the body of her dog, were found days later.
If he had known Lynne was down in the ravine, George would have tried to find her and would have been satisfied to die next to her, he said. The fire destroyed their home, her quilting studio and George’s photography collection.
George said he’d like people to know “how loving and kind she was.” When a new person moved into the neighborhood, he said, “she’d be the first person to welcome them and ask what she could do for them.”
Lynne was 72 when she died. George remembers her as being the best spouse he could have hoped for. “She’s still with me,” he said.
A Box of Chocolates and an Infectious Smile: The Big Heart of Marilyn Ress
Once a week, Marilyn Ress would board a city bus from her home at Journey’s End Mobile Home Park and ride 35 minutes to the Montgomery Village Shopping Center on the east side of Santa Rosa. From there, Ress would walk into See’s Candies.
“She would easily buy $100 worth of peanut brittle, chocolate and gift cards,” said manager Susan Murphy.
But the gift cards and candies were not for herself. Ress bought them as gifts for others. One box of chocolates would go to the bus drivers who took her around town. One would go to her doctor’s office. Another would end up with a neighbor who was having a bad day.
“She would even give chocolates to the landscapers,” said her best friend, Cynthia Conners.
Ress died in the Tubbs Fire. She was 71.
Read more about Marilyn Ress
Conners said Ress was the epitome of selflessness. “I never saw her do anything for herself, not even go to the salon.”
Ress was known to pay for strangers' groceries and cups of coffee. Once, on a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco with Conners, Ress paid for several drivers’ tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge.
“She handed the toll booth clerk a $50 bill and said, 'Pay for all the cars behind us that this covers,' ” Conners said. “She lived and breathed ‘pay it forward.’ ”
Conners and Ress met in the late 1970s, when they both worked at Santa Rosa’s Creekside Hospital. Ress was a certified nursing assistant and Conners was the activities director. Conners said Ress had a goofy sense of humor and an infectious smile.
Ress grew up in the Sonoma County town of Penngrove and attended Petaluma High School. She led a simple life with her two cats at Journey’s End. Conners would sometimes take her on rides through the Sonoma County countryside or to the coast. They would go to Fosters Freeze, where Ress would order her favorite meal: a chili cheeseburger, fries and a vanilla malt.
Ress spent holidays with Conners. A more recent tradition involved hours of holiday cooking in Conners’ small apartment.
“She’d get a list of people that had nowhere to go on Thanksgiving and then show up at my house and tell me I was cooking dinner,” Conners said. “I didn’t have a choice. I had to make fresh cranberries, stuffing, turkey, I mean the whole nine yards.”
Ress would then deliver foil-wrapped meals, two plates at a time, to her neighbors.
Conners and Ress talked over the phone at least once a week. So when she didn’t hear from Ress the week of the fires, she knew something was wrong. But Conners believes Ress is at peace now.
“I just have a funny feeling that she would be happy in heaven,” Conners said. “I can just see her smiling and dancing.”
‘Together All the Time': Sara and Charles Rippey
Charles Rippey -- nicknamed “Peach” as a child for his fuzzy cheeks -- and his wife, Sara Rippey, celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in March. Four months later, Charles celebrated his 100th birthday.
Just three months after that, he died, apparently trying to reach his wife as flames engulfed their home in Napa.
“My father certainly wouldn’t have left her,” his son, Mike Rippey, told the Associated Press.
Read more about Sara and Charles Rippey
Charles Rippey grew up in Hartford, Wisconsin, where he met Sara in grade school. According to the Napa Valley Register, the two attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, together. Charles graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1939.
The Register reported the couple married in 1942, just before Charles joined the Army for World War II service in North Africa, France, Italy and Germany. After the war, Charles and Sara Rippey had three daughters and two sons, and Charles went on to work for the Firestone tire company.
Rippey spent 30 years with Firestone, the Register reports, leading three different divisions and working in Sweden, Argentina and across the Midwest.
In 1978, when most of their adult children moved to California, the elder Rippeys followed, with Charles going to work with Southern California's Norris Industries.
The Rippeys' children say their parents delighted in each other's company.
“Every Sunday night they went dancing,” Mike Rippey told the Register. “They loved to do stuff together; they’d always come home laughing and giggling. Neither ever vacationed alone or went anywhere alone. They were together all the time.”
That remained true until their final moments, when Charles apparently tried to reach Sara, who had been partially paralyzed since suffering a stroke in 2012.
In an interview with the AP, Mike Rippey said his brother discovered their parents’ bodies in the remains of their home in Napa. His father, Rippey said, appeared to be heading to his mother’s room when he was overcome by smoke and flames.
“If he’d survived and she was gone, he would be the most miserable person alive,” Mike Rippey said in an interview with the Register. “If you had asked them if they wanted to go out together, they would have said yes.”
Loving Mom, Generous Artist: Sharon Robinson
Sharon Robinson, a 79-year-old artist and antiques collector, died in when the Tubbs Fire engulfed her Santa Rosa neighborhood.
In the immediate aftermath of the fires, Robinson's daughter, Cathie Merkel, searched for her mom. She posted recent photos of her on Facebook, along with a photo of the lot where Robinson's home had been reduced to ashes. Robinson’s car remained in what was left of the garage.
After days of searching, Merkel posted a message on her Facebook page to let loved ones know Robinson had not survived:
“To my dear friends, thank you all for your efforts in trying to find my mom. We received the news today that she did not make it out of her home the night of the fire. During the next few days I won’t be returning any messages as we deal with the effects of this tragedy. We know she found peace in her passing. Thank you for understanding, stay safe.”
Merkel told the San Jose Mercury News that she visited her mother shortly before the fire with her daughter, who suffers from terminal brain cancer. “It was a very happy visit, very friendly.”
“She was really a warm and lovely woman, absolutely,” Jeri Sprague, a former neighbor of Robinson who knew her for decades, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Lee Chadwick Rogers, 72
Marnie Schwartz Devoted Herself to Activism and Teaching
Marjorie Schwartz was her real name, but everyone called her Marnie.
And everyone remembers that she called them "sweetie." Denise Harrison, a friend of Schwartz, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I don't ever remember her calling me 'Denise.' I remember her calling me 'sweetie.' I can hear it in my head now: 'Hi, sweetie.' "
Read more about Marjorie Schwartz
Schwartz, 68, died in the Tubbs Fire.
Schwartz' spirit will live on in the memories of those she taught, which spanned students in Walnut Creek, San Rafael, Santa Rosa and English-language learners, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
She was also active in her religious community, serving as president of the Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa at one point, according to the Chronicle.
Rabbi George Gittleman told the paper that Schwartz loved to study and discuss Jewish texts of all kinds, and she was very literate, well-read and well-educated.
Touch Football and a Middle School Crush: After the Fire, 8th-Graders Remember Classmate Kai Shepherd
Kai Logan Shepherd, 14, was the youngest person to die in the October wildfires. But in the weeks after the tragedy, he was still a presence among his classmates at Redwood Valley's Eagle Peak Middle School.
Eagle Peak's Spirit Week, which features a different dress-up theme every day, was delayed by three weeks after the fire that devastated the Mendocino County community and killed nine people, including Kai's 17-year-old sister, Kressa.
Eagle Peak Principal Dan Stearns, shuffling down a school hallway on wear-your-pajamas-to-school day in slippers and a plaid bathrobe, says he remembers Kai as a kid "constantly running from group to group, interacting, laughing, joking around.”
Read more about Kai Shepherd
Stearns stops at a classroom on the second floor where a group of eighth-grade students are hunched over their laptops, scrolling through photos: Kai at the beach, Kai playing baseball, Kai goofing around with his friends.
School was closed for a week after the fire, but the first day back, students asked their digital media teacher if they could make a dedication page for Kai in the yearbook.
"They've been working nonstop on it since then," says Elizabeth DeVinny, who taught Kai in her honors English class last year. "They've been gathering photos and even asking if they could have extra space, because they have so much that their classmates want to say and their teachers want to say."
Kai loved sports. One of his best friends, Brenton Wheeler, took a video of Kai competing in a wrestling match last year.
"After he was done wrestling ... he kinda ... he smiled. Even though he lost, he smiled, and, kept his chin up," Brenton remembers.
Winning or losing, he always walked off the mat with a smile, says Shane Stearns, another of Kai's friends.
The three boys played touch football every morning on the blacktop at school, he says. Kai was the quarterback.
"He would get frustrated easily, but ...," Brenton says.
"He'd always be laughing when he was arguing, though," Shane finishes.
Kai had other dimensions, and Janeane Higdon, 13, wants to show the side of him that she knew in the yearbook.
"On the outside, I know he was very athletic. But on Instagram, he’d just act like a totally different person. He would talk about nerd stuff like Magic and video games," she says. "Deep down inside, I think he was a nerd."
For their celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, students put together an altar for Kai. It has a baseball and football on it. And a box of Kai's favorite cereal: Golden Grahams. Janeane draped a special necklace over the box.
"We had matching shark-tooth necklaces from Six Flags," she says, the kind that are sold in pairs.
Janeane kept one, and gave the other one to Kai.
"I had a crush on Kai last year," she says. "So I brought him back a necklace. And he wore it, I think, twice. And then he put it on his shelf, I’m pretty sure he told me. So I had one of his best friends deliver it to him, 'cause I was kind of scared to."
They started messaging over Instagram. Janeane wrote poems about him in her honors English class, including an ode to Kai’s blue eyes.
Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,
they make me get butterflies.
Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,
around you they make me feel shy.
Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,
they make me feel high.
Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,
they make me love the plain dull sky
Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,
thoughts of you preoccupy my mind
Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,
they’re prettier than a dragon’s eye….
Janeane gave a couple of her poems to Kai, and he told her he liked them because they reminded him of rap music. She was never really sure, though, what Kai thought about her.
But Brenton and Shane did.
"I remember Kai kinda liked Janeane, too, at one point," Shane says. "I remember him talking about that."
"Kai would say, 'It's kinda nice knowing that Janeane likes me,' " Brenton says. "And how he kinda liked her back."
Janeane didn’t know this.
"It kinda makes me sad now. Because we could have gotten closer," she says. "And now that he's dead, I know that we won't be able to replay that."
Ukiah High School Students Mourn the Death of Kressa Shepherd and Celebrate Homecoming in the Same Week
Homecoming is not a day at Ukiah High School; it's a weeklong series of events. After a wildfire tore through Redwood Valley in October, the school district postponed the football game and festivities to give the town some time to recover.
Three weeks later, the night before the rescheduled events were about to start, high school junior Kressa Shepherd died in the hospital. She was 17.
“The mood is definitely complicated and complex,” said Gordon Oslund, the school principal, as he watched students milling in the courtyard. “It’s people trying to figure out, how do you deal with a community tragedy and then carry on and have a community celebration all at the same time?”
Kressa and her parents were found in the road near their home the night of the fire and flown to hospitals for treatment of severe burns. Kressa’s younger brother, Kai, 14, died before help arrived. Both of Kressa’s legs were amputated in the hospital, and she suffered cardiac arrest and multiple infections before she also died.
Read more about Kressa Shepherd
On the morning of the big football game, Nov. 3, students packed the bleachers in the gym for a homecoming rally, one of several held throughout the week. The juniors wore all shades of pink, their class color. Hanging on the wall above them, gold balloons shimmered in the fluorescent light, spelling out K-R-E-S-S-A and K-A-I.
For some of Kressa’s friends, the ones who made it to school that week, the whole scene was just weird.
“It was just like, ‘Wow, like how can you be happy right now?’ ” said Sasha Wilkins, a sophomore.
The class period right before, she had been to a grief circle for Kressa’s friends and classmates.
“It was weird being in a group of everyone having such strong emotions, of being sad and down. And then going to another group of people who's so excited and so happy,” Wilkins said. “But then I realized not everyone's thinking about that all the time, but that's OK.”
Before Ukiah high, Kressa went to a Waldorf school. From fourth grade through eighth, she was in the same class with the same teacher and the same 23 kids. The high school counselors gathered them, and the class of sophomores below hers, to talk and share memories of Kressa.
Wilkins remembered feeling intimidated last year about becoming a sophomore. She was confiding in her friends about it when Kressa walked by.
“She overheard that and came up to me later and we just sat down and talked about it, and she comforted me,” she said. “She was like, ‘Yeah I was really nervous as well, but it's going to be OK and it's not as hard as you think it is.’ It was a wonderful moment.”
Kressa’s teachers embodied the mixed emotions of the week. Some cried openly in front of their classrooms, then dressed up days later in purple and gold for homecoming. Across the board, they remember Kressa as a star student who kept a 4.0 GPA.
“She’s the rock in the classroom,” said Meagan Davis, her English teacher. “To have at least one student in the class be there for you. You look up and you see them fully enveloped in what you're teaching – she was that student in my class.”
A peacemaker, is how Liz Johnson, Kressa's U.S. history teacher, described her.
“She had a lot of compassion for multiple points of view,” Johnson said. “She had a deeper understanding of the world around her.”
And she was a natural-born artist, according to her art teacher, Rose Easterbrook.
“She wanted to be an illustrator someday, and she truly could have done that,” she said.
Kressa had been working on a series of drawings of a young girl with blond hair frolicking in a meadow. She carried them everywhere with her. For her photography class, she took a similar picture of her cousin picking flowers, and photo-shopped fairy wings into it.
“That was her: innocent and sincere,” said Lech Slocinski, her photography teacher, as he hung a collection of Kressa’s black-and-white prints in the school lobby. “There was nothing fake about her. Everything was just real. And kind. And it shows in her pictures.”
Her work often portrayed a calm world, he said, removed from madness and conflict.
And that was the kind of scene the school tried to recreate in her memory the night of the homecoming game.
“This evening, we pay tribute to the lives of Ukiah High School junior, Kressa Shepherd, and her brother, Kai Logan Shepherd,” principal Gordon Oslund said to the crowd, asking them to join him in a moment of silence.
Before the marching band came on, before the football players took the field, and before screaming erupted in the stands, more than a thousand people stood up and went completely quiet.
Even at 71, Daniel Martin Southard Hadn't Lost His Love of Football
Daniel Martin Southard, 71, one of those who died in the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, was known for his love of football. According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, when he graduated Southern California's Crescenta Valley High School in 1964, he received special awards in athletics.
That love of sports athleticism and love of the sport never left him. The Press Democrat reports that he went on to become a personal trainer and eventually bought a Gold's Gym in Santa Rosa.
Daniel Southard's son Derek told the Mercury News in San Jose that his father "was just a very loving guy. He was very sweet and very kind."
Steve Stelter 'Would Find the Funny in It'
A photograph of Steve Stelter shows him wearing a shirt of "Beavis and Butt-Head," who are themselves wearing "Ren & Stimpy" costumes. It helps to be familiar with the crude hilarity of these shows to better understand what Stelter’s daughter, Reeah Winkle, means when she says her dad was playful.
But along with his love of irreverent, fart-joke humor was his witty, softer side, she said. “If there was a hard situation, he would find the funny in it,” said Winkle, who gave him the shirt as a birthday present. “You could laugh with him even when you were having a hard time.”
Read more about Steve Stelter
Winkle laughs thinking about memories she has of her dad: trips to the movies or the flea market or an amusement park. Winkle said that even though she didn’t live with her dad, he was very present.
“He was the kind of person that if you needed anything, he was there to help you any way he could,” she said.
Stelter helped neighbors clear iced-over driveways on cold winter days. He helped family with plumbing problems or with cars that needed fixing (his specialty). He was a handyman.
“He would be right over to fix it,” said Winkle.
Stelter drove trucks for a number of companies, but it was at Pacific Bell that he met his longtime partner, Janet Costanzo, who also died in the fire.
The pair lived on a large parcel where they’d take their dogs for walks and where Steve could shoot his guns and work on cars, Winkle said.
Steve’s brother, Doug Stelter, eventually moved into a trailer on their property. The three of them would eat dinner together most nights: more meat and fewer vegetables, said Doug Stelter.
“We’d all sit around and watch TV," he said. "They liked '[American] Pickers.' " And "Deadliest Catch" was also a favorite.
Steve loved the holidays, too. Winkle remembers fireworks on the Fourth of July, trick-or-treating on Halloween and how her father loved being around family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But more than anything, he loved being a grandpa to his two grandchildren, Winkle said.
“He’d be down on the ground playing with them,” she said. “He was that kind of grandfather.”
Steve Stelter, 56, is survived by his brother Doug, his daughter Reeah Winkle, and his grandchildren, Mac and Sunny Mortensen.
Margaret Stephenson Spread Joy With Huge Heart and Love of Parties
Margaret Stephenson, 86, was a vibrant and tenacious British transplant to Mendocino County's Redwood Valley who lived alone on 2 rural acres, loved animals and never shied away from a good party.
“She was very proud of her British heritage and a person that loved to celebrate festivities,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, who received Halloween and Christmas cards from her every year. “I can’t imagine ever not having fun if Margaret was at an event.”
Stephenson was the last victim found after the fire.
Read more about Margaret Stephenson
Stephenson moved to Mendocino County in the 1970s with her husband, Raymond, who took a job as a manager at Mendo Mill & Lumber Co.. She briefly worked as a schoolteacher but devoted most of her life to helping her husband and maintaining their land. The couple were married roughly 60 years. They had no children.
“She and her husband came over with nothing, essentially,” said Mandi Hamilton, who became Margaret’s insurance agent and close friend after her husband died in 2015. “They worked hard, joined clubs and became an integral part of community."
“She spoke so openly of her husband, Raymond, and how much she loved him,” Hamilton added.
Soon after she met Stephenson, Hamilton said, the two of them hit it off and began calling each other every morning. About six months before the fire, Stephenson was diagnosed with cancer, but was responding well to treatment and remained very independent. Last summer, Hamilton taught her how to drive her husband's truck, which she had previously refused to touch. And to boost her spirits, Hamilton also recently gave her a cat, which she instantly fell in love with.
Tamara Latrice Thomas, a San Francisco Native Who Perished in Assisted-Care Home
Tamara Latrice Thomas, 47, was a native of San Francisco who split her time between her hometown and a board-and-care facility in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, one of the areas ravaged by the Tubbs Fire early Oct. 9.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Thomas, who was paralyzed, died after being unable to get out of her second-floor bedroom at the Crestview Court Residential Care Home.
KQED was unable to reach Thomas's family members for comment, but the Press Democrat reported her brother is suing PG&E for wrongful death, alleging the utility failed to maintain power lines that could have sparked the wind-whipped fire. The case was filed in Sonoma County Superior Court and seeks unspecified damages for pain and suffering.
Linda Tunis Was Close to Her Daughter Until the End
In January 2017, Linda Tunis moved from Florida to Santa Rosa to be closer to her daughter, Jessica.
Their time together in California was cut short. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Linda Tunis called her daughter early the morning of Oct. 9 as the Tubbs Fire began burning her mobile home. “I was telling her I love her when the phone died," Jessica Tunis said.