Video Shows First Hours of the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa

A heartbreaking nine-minute compilation video by Press Democrat photographer Kent Porter documents the first hours of the devastating Tubbs fire the early morning of Oct. 9.

The video shows what it was like on the front lines as the blaze roared through parts of Santa Rosa, ultimately killing 21 people and burning more than 36,000 acres.

Michella Flores

As a former firefighter and paramedic, Michella Flores has seen her fair share of emergency situations. But over the past couple of weeks she became a victim herself, and began to see things from a different perspective. She hasn't really slept in days.

Flores, who works as a flight attendant, was in Las Vegas on October 1, watching Jason Aldean perform at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when a gunman, perched in a suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, opened fire on the crowd, killing 58 and wounding hundreds.

Days later, after returning home to Santa Rosa, California, she and her parents were forced to flee their home and escape the wildfires that have devastated Northern California. The rental house is gone, along with all her parents' belongings, Flores told CNN.

"It's just a very helpless feeling," she said of the past couple of weeks. "I just thought, well, I've been in these situations before. It shouldn't be a big deal.

"But when it's happening to you, it's a whole different realm."

When she got off work, she headed to her parents' house, where she was staying during the process of moving to another house. As she was driving, she said, "I looked up and I could see the glow" of the fires. As a former firefighter, she knew it meant the fire was close, and the wind direction told her it could be coming right for them.

She told her parents they should probably start packing their things and left to take her dog to a park. Five minutes later, listening to a local fire dispatch, Flores heard crews mention the name of the road below her parents' home.

"I called my mom," Flores said, "and my mom screamed in the phone and said, 'It's at the bottom of our driveway.'" She turned back, arriving at the house right behind a fire engine.

Flores stayed on the scene to help firefighters protect the home, even as the wildfire devoured the neighbor's house. At 4 or 5 a.m., she said, the house was mostly intact, so she drove to Oakland to attend training for work while her parents went to an evacuation center. When she got off that evening, Flores said, "I went back and the house was gone. Completely."


The Block Family

Zach Block and his brother tried to fight off flames in the backyard of Block's Santa Rosa home, but their hoses were no match for the flames.

Block awoke at 1 a.m. and smelled the fire. He woke his wife and also his brother, and they went to figure out how close the flames were to the house.

"As we were looking in the back, the backyard, we started to notice that the air started to become a little bit more dense in smoke, and then there's a lot of light from the fire shining on the other side of the freeway," Block said.

"And then within 10 minutes, you know, my brother and I were out in the backyard with the hoses and trying to fight off as much as we could."

As the fire continued its rapid approach toward the house, Block realized they had to evacuate. As it turns out, they only had five minutes to escape.

After leaving with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, Block and his family watched as the flames engulfed their home. It's one of around 2,000 structures that have been destroyed by the wildfires so far.

"You know, we're kinda figuring it out as we come across the things that we need to worry about," Block said. "The support has been unreal, and we're just kinda taking it one step at a time."


The Curzons

In Santa Rosa's Coffey Park neighborhood, Margaret Curzon's mother, Karen, woke up to the smell of smoke. But she thought it was the neighbor's chimney or a nearby barbecue, her daughter said. So she went back to sleep.

Curzon's parents only woke up for good after their bichon frise, Brady, started whimpering. Curzon's father Ed looked outside thought there may have been a bombing.

"It looked like we were at war," Curzon said. "The sky was orange, and there were embers falling from the sky."

Curzon said her parents had five to 10 minutes to grab their two dogs and anything else they could gather before jumping in their car.

She said it took about half an hour for her mom and dad get out of their neighborhood because cars were bumper to bumper.

"He could feel the car getting hotter and hotter because the fire kept creeping up and getting closer to them," she said.

When the family returned, the only item remaining was a concrete statue of the Virgin Mary.

"If it wasn't for my dog whimpering and waking my parents up, my God," Curzon said. "I don't know what would have happened."

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 7.25.23 PM.png

Ernie Chapman

Ernie Chapman says his pooch, Sabrina, woke him and saved his life. Chapman said he received no warning that a raging inferno was headed toward his Santa Rosa home until one of his two dogs spoke up.

"My one dog, she's really alert to things. She started barking and just wanting me to check on stuff," Chapman said.

He went outside and saw ash blowing in the wind and "embers dropping everywhere."

"I just grabbed my keys, my truck and my dogs and took off," he said.

On Wednesday, Chapman's neighborhood looked like a scorched war zone. But he wasn't complaining.

"I'm just glad to be here. Glad to have my dogs," he said. "You can replace the stuff, but life is most important.