Unknown Fire Hero: Santa Rosa Teacher Wants to Thank Man Who Saved Her Life

A screen capture from video of an unknown man who awakened Santa Rosa teacher Anna Solano as a wildfire approached her home early Oct. 9, 2017. Solano says she'd like to find the man and thank him for saving her life. (Courtesy of Anna Solano)

Update 10:14 a.m. Friday: Big thanks to everyone who helped us locate Donny Riveras as the young man who helped Anna Solano and others escape from Coffey Park the night of the Tubbs Fire. Anna and Donny are in touch!

Anna Solano is one of the thousands of people who escaped their homes in Santa Rosa as wildfire raced into the city early the morning of Oct. 9. Now she wants to find the stranger she says woke her up as danger approached and, in doing so, saved her life.

Images of the stranger — a young man in a white T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap — were captured by a security camera on Solano’s front porch in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood. The video shows the man frantically rapping on her door and repeatedly calling out, “Hello?”

Behind him, the sky glows orange as the Tubbs Fire draws near. The air is full of smoke and gusts whip a small American flag windsock near Solano’s front walk. Vehicles stream down the street as residents flee.

The young man keeps knocking. Inside the house, Solano’s dog barks.

“He knocked on our door for like a minute and a half until we woke up,” Solano said. “And I left in three minutes. I didn’t take anything, just my dog. I took one car.”

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FIRE HERO: A Santa Rosa woman says this stranger saved her life by alerting her as the #NorthBayFires neared + now she wants to thank him. https://t.co/38nKTqYR8O

Solano, who teaches math at Roseland University Prep High School, says the last video from her home on Mocha Lane was transmitted at 3:10 a.m. just 40 minutes after the unknown man awakened her.

“I want to find him,” Solano said. “He saved my life. He just kept knocking until we answered. I think he heard the dog barking inside, and that’s why he wouldn’t leave.”

The final images from her home show sparks flying past the front door, and by dawn, the home was one of the thousands of North Bay residences destroyed in the fires. Solano says she managed to get back into Coffey Park the next day and found her home still smoldering.

She says two students from her high school also lost their homes.

“They were in my neighborhood. They were renters. No insurance,” she said. She worries about how they and their families will manage. As for herself, Solano says there has been an outpouring of help from her students.

“I had many students and parents text me and email me. They have been wonderful,” Solano said. “The kids have offered me apartments, they have offered me money, food, they say, ‘Come by!’ They send me their address. It was overwhelming.”

She says right now she’s staying in a small flat belonging to a friend of hers. The friend’s tenant had just left for the Marines, so the place was open. Solano’s border collie, Maisey, isn’t too happy about being cooped up, but Solano is grateful for a place to stay.

And she is intent on finding the young man who saved her, the one in the video.

“I’m going to find him,” she says. “The camera takes pictures, so I have a picture of his face. I’m going to find him.”

Unknown Fire Hero: Santa Rosa Teacher Wants to Thank Man Who Saved Her Life 20 October,2017Julia McEvoy


Julia McEvoy

Julia McEvoy is the senior editor, features and enterprise for KQED News.

Julia got into reporting covering Chicago’s Latino communities for a Spanish-language TV news station, then began freelancing Latino-centric stories for public radio. That lead to radio documentary work, then to editing, and eventually executive producing Chicago Matters, an award-winning public affairs series.  Julia founded WBEZ’s Ear to the Ground mentorship program, bringing community contributors stories to air and on-line.

Julia’s editorial work has received a Peabody Award, a Casey Medal for Coverage of Children and Families, several Edward R. Murrow awards, as well as awards from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. and the Society for Professional Journalists.

Get in touch: jmcevoy@kqed.org or @juliamcevoy1

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