Dave Andersen drives his ’07 Ford F-150, which survived a wildfire that destroyed Andersen’s whole neighborhood. Kate Andersen
The F-150’s 5.4L Triton V8 turned over on the first try when the Andersen’s returned two weeks after escaping the deadly fire.(Photo: Dave and Kate Andersen)
Kate and Dave Andersen didn’t know what to expect when they returned to the house they’d fled as California’s wild fires raced toward them in the early morning hours earlier this month.
The one thing they did know was that their 10-year-old Ford F-150 pickup would be waiting, surrounded by the ashes of all else that had once been their neighborhood.
“We haven’t been back yet,” Kate had written when another resident got into the neighborhood and took pictures of their pickup, the only thing left standing in a scene of devastation. “We do not know if it will start. I did grab the keys as I was rushing out the door.”
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Dave and Kate, both 53, and their 24-year-old daughter Kaley escaped just before the fire swept through their neighborhood.
The sheriff pulled into the Andersen’s quiet court shortly after midnight on Oct. 9. They had heard sirens all day from emergency vehicles on nearby Highway 101 as fire raged through Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.
“My husband said, ‘We’re going to wake up to something big,’” Kate said. Later that night, she heard about evacuations up the road and stepped into her yard. “It was extremely windy, basically a firestorm.
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“I could see a glow in the sky coming our way from both directions and smell smoke.
The fire was coming fast. Everybody had to leave immediately, the sheriff said. Neighbors ran from house to house, pounding on doors, waking friends.
Insurance adjusters inspect Kate and Dave Andersen’s 2007 F-150 pickup, which somehow survived a fire that destroyed a neighborhood in Santa Rosa, Calif. Kate Andersen
“Everybody got out, but all I could think about was our dog, a 150-pound eight-year-old Newfoundland named Otto,” Kate said
Dave bundled Otto into his work truck, a 2006 Ford Ranger. Kate and their 24-year-old daughter Kaley, who teaches in a nearby district, jumped into Kaley’s new 2017 Ford Escape.
Kate grabbed Kaley’s school gear while Kaley rescued family photos and jewelry.
“We had no idea the fire would consume our home. I thought we’d be back in a few days,” Kate said. She grabbed two shirts to last until they returned.
They made it out, but it wasn’t easy.
“It was a horrible drive,” Kate said. The fire had jumped over 101 south of town, blocking access to the Bay Area. Everybody had to squeeze onto the northbound escape route. “We sat stuck in traffic for an hour in front of a grocery store watching the fire burn around us.” Neighbors got out, shared bottles of water and tried to keep each other’s spirits up.
Days later, as the family stayed with friends, the first photo of their red F-150 arrived. It was the only splash of color in the world of grey ash that had been their neighborhood.
“We cannot believe our Ford truck appears to be standing in the aftermath of all this destruction!” Kate wrote in an e-mail a week after the fire.
It got even more unbelievable when they finally returned to the neighborhood last week.
“It runs. The interior is in terrific shape, but all the plastic on the outside melted because it was so hot,” Andersen said from the rented home where she and her family are putting their lives back together.
“There’s nothing left of our house. It dissolved into ash.”
The V-8 engine turned over like the red F-150 had been waiting in an airport parking lot, not one of the deadliest fires in California history. The blaze killed 19 and destroyed 5% of the homes in Santa Rosa, a city of 174,000.
Insurance adjusters from State Farm inspected the truck and pronounced it repairable. A few days later, Dave drove it up and down the street a couple of times to make sure the steering and brakes worked, then took it to a repair shop.
“It was the greatest truck ever,” Kate said. “It took us everywhere from school soccer tournaments to LA to Arizona. Then it literally went through hell.
“I’m not sure I ever want to drive it again. There are too many memories. We’ll probably get another truck. A nice F-150.”
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