On the lot where her family’s Fountaingrove home used to be, Rachael McGregor walked the outline of her room. She pointed to where her desk stood, her bed, her fish tank. There was the window her older brother tapped on when he got home late from a party and needed his sister to let him in. The bathroom down the hall where she and her best friend, Gigi Swenson-Aguirre, would get ready before Cardinal Newman High School football games, using eyeliner in the school’s colors — red and gold — to decorate their faces, part of their regular Friday night fall ritual.
The McGregor home burned down in the October wildfires. Including Rachael, 22 of the 131 Cardinal Newman seniors lost their homes.
From her neighborhood on Crown Hill Drive, it took 15 minutes to drive to campus on Ursuline Road. There, a week before McGregor and her classmates graduated last night, she stared through the chain-link fence that divides the Cardinal Newman grounds into two sections: what burned in the fire and what didn’t.
She can still see where the library used to stand, “by the (Virgin) Mary statue, to the right and in between the garbage cans — that’s where the entrance was.”
Nothing remains of the library, 20 classrooms and the school’s front office — all destroyed by the Tubbs fire early in the morning of Oct. 9.
The start of senior year
The fall semester began just as Rachael imagined it would.
Mornings in the school parking lot scrolling through the devotional app on her iPhone reading prayers and religious meditations. Friends piling into her roomy black SUV, talking, laughing and listening to music until class time. Sometimes getting up early enough for a sunrise ride with her beloved brown Holsteiner horse, Lenny, who she boards in Petaluma.
She and Gigi were named co-captains of the tennis team. Together, they picked out the girls’ uniforms: white tank tops with maroon skirts.
During one particularly difficult singles match in September, Rachael’s teammates watched as she went back and forth against a girl from San Francisco University High School.
The match extended to 2½ hours. Rachael was down a set before coming back to win.
“With this girl, she needed a whole new strategy,” Gigi said. “It was the match of the year. Just watching her perform at her best for more than two hours was really incredible.”
Two weeks later, just before a match, her good friend, Joe Bone, asked her to Newman’s homecoming dance, set for Oct. 7. A friend helped him pop tennis balls into a chain-link fence next to the courts to spell out “HOCO,” and then waited for Rachael to notice it. She said yes.
‘There’s a fire’
Rachael woke up at 2 a.m. Oct. 9 to her cellphone ringing. Beau Barrington, a friend and Newman’s star quarterback, was calling.
“I was like, ‘Why is Beau calling me at 2 in the morning?’”
Barrington lived in the Mark West area, and had by then already fled his family’s home. He was calling to warn her.
“He was like, ‘There’s a fire. You have to wake up your family. You have to leave right now.’ And I was like, ‘OK.’ ”
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