SANTA ROSA, CA (October 10, 2017) – Mason Williams, associate pastor of student ministries at Redwood Covenant Church, had to break through a door to rescue his sleeping 83-year-old grandmother from her house shortly before it was destroyed early Monday morning by the deadly Tubbs Fire that has devastated the area.
Williams had arrived at the San Francisco airport late Sunday night after visiting his sister in San Diego. He saw the fire and drove to his parents’ house to wake them up and warn them so they could be aware of possible danger.
Williams went to his girlfriend’s apartment, where they were watching updates about the multiple fires in the area when he noticed that the Tubbs Fire was headed in the direction of his grandmother’s house. Williams lives in a small separate structure just behind the house.
The fire still was on the other side of Highway 101 and it seemed unlikely that it would jump a six-lane highway, Williams said.
But Dan Ferguson, connections pastor, texted Williams to warn him that the fire had jumped the highway. Williams realized he needed to get home right away to check on his grandmother.
“It was one of the most apocalyptic sights I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I was driving one way and everyone else was driving in the opposite direction to get away.”
Williams’s grandmother was asleep without her hearing aids so she did not hear the fire. When Williams arrived, flames on the backyard fence reached six to eight feet high.
“It was an inferno,” he said.
The front door was locked, and Williams tried to get in through a side door, but it was also locked. He tried to kick it in, but couldn’t.
“I grabbed a hammer and knocked a hole in the door so I could reach my hand in and unlock it,” Williams said.
When he reached his grandmother’s room, that door also was locked. Williams knocked for roughly 30 seconds before she woke up. Rushing out the front door, they saw “a scene I’ll never forget,” Williams said. The fire was smaller but, “The wind was horrendous, and ash and embers were swirling everywhere.”
Her house was destroyed as was the 400-square-foot residence where Williams lives.
Williams’s grandmother had fled wearing just her nightgown and no shoes. Williams drove her to the church, which has been serving as a shelter. She and other evacuees staying there were able to obtain clothing from the stores of the clothes and food bank the church opens once a month.
So far, fires in Northern California have claimed the lives of 11 people, including seven people in Sonoma Country, where Santa Rosa is located. The fire has laid waste to much of Santa Rosa.