Andrew and Barbara McCarthy, both in their 90s, reflect on losing their Santa Rosa home in the Tubbs Fire.

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Resilient Couple Reflects On Narrow Escape From Tubbs Fire

Jenna Lane
October 14, 2018 - 11:45 am

Most of the people who died when the Tubbs Fire swept west from Calistoga last October were over the age of 70. Among the survivors, many seniors on fixed incomes were forced to leave the increasingly expensive region. For many of those who have stayed, rebuilding is just not in the cards.

"Barb woke me up and said something's wrong. Smoke coming, and heavy," recalled Andrew McCarthy, 97, a retired San Francisco police officer. "I looked out the front window and the garbage cans we had put out the night before were blowing over. The wind was howling. The air was full of cinders."

McCarthy and his wife Barbara had a lot going for them in the early morning hours of October 9, 2017. They had a full tank of gas in their car, and moved it out of the garage of their Santa Rosa home before the power went out.

"We said we'd better get ready to get out of here," Andy said, "and about that time one of the staff came by and he kept hollering, 'Evacuate, evacuate.'"

Andy had handled his share of chaos as a San Francisco cop who rode in the mounted unit. But that was more than 45 years ago. 

"I could've done better," he said. "I could've stayed longer and packed up some stuff, if I had to do it over again. But there's not too many second chances in life. You have to do right the first time."

Barbara, 91, said the only important thing that they saved was their car. "We did grab some clothes and some other things, but still, nothing that we should have gotten. You know how it is. At 2:30 in the morning, you're not thinking very clearly."

Barbara and her husband lived in their home just west of Coffey Park, for 35 years before the Tubbs Fire took it. It was at the western edge of a fire that consumed more than 5,000 homes. 

"The rest of the block was fine! Even next door, didn't even have any smoke damage," Barbara said. 

It was a great place to live, Andy said. "In earlier years when we were all a little bit younger, we had a lot of parties and dances. We would dance until 1:00 in the morning with the live music and a bar."

Since the fire, their neighbors — many of them retirees too — have scattered. Their best friend moved to Bakersfield. The McCarthys have not gone far; they are renting an apartment near their former home. They were fortunate to find it and get a quick, complete payment from their insurance company.

"Having to buy everything else is kind of overwhelming," Barbara said. "Every time I turn around, I reach for something and don't have it. I have to put it on my list to buy."

They may look for a different apartment, but they have no plans to rebuild. 

"I think there's too much involved in getting it set up. Draperies, for instance, and the yard. He's not up to taking care of the yard anymore," Barbara said

"Especially at our age, " Andy said, "we can't make up all that stuff. My thinking is you quit grieving over what's gone by, and try to make the most of the few years we have left."