Burned in North Bay wildfires, survivors continue painful healing
After months of hospitalization for severe burns suffered during the Redwood Valley wildfire in Mendocino County a year ago, Sara Shepherd was understandably eager to rejoin her husband, Jon.
But there was something else. February was the month in which both of their teenage children — the youngest who lost their lives as a result of the fires — had been born. It was thus February this year when the couple wanted to be home to honor their children’s short lives at a community memorial service, even if “it was a little bit of a push to get everything and everyone ready,” said Mindi Ramos, Sara Shepherd’s sister and family spokeswoman.
The Shepherds were among the most seriously injured survivors of the unprecedented wildfires that exploded across six Northern California counties in October 2017, taking the lives of 44 people, including 24 in Sonoma County and eight in the rural Mendocino community of Redwood Valley.
The Shepherds, now living in Ukiah, face many of the same challenges shared by an unknown number of people who were burned or otherwise hurt when flames torched parts of the region last fall. It’s unclear how many residents experienced similar injuries or smoke inhalation, a serious injury suffered by many who endured the flames.
No comprehensive survey of fire-related injuries or hospitalizations has been compiled. And evacuations and closures of two major north Santa Rosa hospitals — Sutter Santa Rosa Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente — during the historic Tubbs fire complicate efforts to track those patients.
Many of those with the most severe physical wounds, like the Shepherds, also mourn lives lost.
Kai Logan Shepherd, 14, died as he and his family tried to flee the flames that trapped them on Oct. 8, 2017, near their hillside home.
Kressa Jean Shepherd, 17, died of her injuries three weeks later at Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento. The parents recovery is inescapably intertwined with grieving the unbearable loss of their children, Ramos said.
There’s Mike Hanson, 56, of Santa Rosa, whose 27-year-old daughter, Christina Hanson, died when the fire blasted across their property off Wikiup Bridge Way and Mark West Springs Road. Christina Hanson used a wheelchair and likely was hampered in her escape from the apartment she occupied near her father’s house.
Hanson, a retired electrical contractor and glassblower, suffered second- and third-degree burns over as much as half of his body and was found unconscious on the road by a neighbor once the fire swept through. He was hospitalized until February, saying then he expected to rehabilitate for another year. He has kept a low-profile since, but has mostly recovered, a friend said last week.
Similarly, Helen Hung, 77, found herself trapped as the fire surrounded the Fountaingrove home she shared with her elderly husband. Tak-fu Hung, 101, made it only as far as the front door of their burning house before telling his wife to go on alone — so evident were their poor odds.
Unable to open their garage door, they would have to escape on foot. He did not think he would make it, family members said later, and he died in the fire.
Helen Hung, his wife of 46 years, briefly found refuge behind a low stone wall in the front yard, then lay in a neighbor’s driveway for hours until help arrived, the fire burning over and all around her for part of that time.