SANTA ROSA (CBS13) — A group of Santa Rosa residents finally returned home Tuesday afternoon after the Tubbs Fire forced them to evacuate in the middle of the night.
“I had looked for them so many times, but I couldn’t find them,” said 87-year-old Martha Torbitt.
The residents of Vineyard at Fountaingrove Memory Care were the first on their street to return home after evacuating in the middle of the night. Several nearby buildings and homes were destroyed by the Tubbs Fire. It came within feet of their facility, but luckily, their building is still standing.
It was a tearful reunion 15 days after the flames broke out. For many of them, Tuesday was the first time they had seen their families since the fire began.
“The one head I saw looking over everybody was my son,” Torbitt said. “I said “Oh my son! My son!”
Diana Torbitt had to evacuate her own home but says she was petrified about her mother in law Marty Torbitt.
“We couldn’t get here, the traffic was too bad,” Diana said. “The flames were shooting between our houses so there was no way we could!”
Charlie King, 89, was in bed when a staff member woke him up.
“We were standing in the lobby, and they said ‘We better get out of here fast!’” King said.
Maintenance director Hercules Cuevas had gotten a call around midnight saying the power was out, but when he arrived, he noticed smoke nearby and how hard it was to breathe.
“I asked the caregivers have any of you ever evacuated a building,” he recounted. “They said ‘no!’ I said ‘me neither, but we’re doing this now!’”
They needed to get 22 people out, but their van only had room for 14. So, employee, Christina Cruz called Victory Outreach Church.
“Our pastor drove through the fire with two church vans so that we could get all the residents out,” she explained. “My initial reaction was to get them to safety. I mean my residents are my heartbeat!”
They spent the next 12 hours at the church, before heading to a temporary facility in Sacramento.
“I was thinking of this place all the time when we were there,” King said.
Cruz said she and the staff had to clean every air filter, bed sheet, and surface before they could reopen.
“It was like an answered prayer,” Cruz said. “I was like ‘Thank you, Lord. Our building is still standing!”