SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - Neighbors of a retired San Francisco Fire Battalion Chief and his wife are being called heroes tonight for helping evacuate people whose homes that were about to go up in flames.
The Leanios lived near Mark West Springs Road in Santa Rosa and they lost everything in the fire.
The couple had seen the television news reports, but hadn't seen the devastation firsthand; KTVU's Tara Moriarty was with them when they returned home for the first time.
"This is a war zone... it's just so surreal," said Terry Leanio as she sobbed, surveying the rubble that was once her home.
Today Terry and her husband Phil, returned to their house Lambert Court for the first time since fire ripped through their quiet tree-lined cul-de -sac.
Terry was overcome with emotion as she pointed to the spot where her garden used to be and where Phil's Harley Davidson stands, looking like a shell of metal.
The fire has swallowed whole nearly 30 years of memories.
"I don't recognize anything," said Terry. "To me, it's like I'm in another world because this was my home, you know? And it's gone."
As a retired battalion chief, Phil said he never thought be the victim of a fire.
"I never cried so much like I did yesterday and actually broke down, went to my knees," said Phil.
Terry said at 11:30 p.m. Sunday night received a KTVU cell phone alert, then a landline call from the Santa Rosa Fire Department, telling her to evacuate. Terry quickly alerted sleeping neighbors.
"I called them. I called them on their cells and, in turn, it was a ricochet effect," she said.
Phil rescued his elderly neighbor with no time to spare.
"We left without anything except this," he said tugging on his shirt. "This shirt, this pair of pants."
"I feel like I'm in another country," said Terry, as helicopters buzzed above and the sound of crunching pierced with air with every step she took.
"I thought there was a ray of hope somewhere," said Phil, shaking his head. "I thought I was a strong person."
Phil said he and Terry got married in the house years ago, raising their five children together there.
While Moriarty was interviewing the Leanios, SFFD Batt.. Chief Mike Thompson called to wish the family well.
"We're glad you got out and you're ok but this is horrible. Anything you need, you know we're always here for you," relayed Thompson.
"I know," said Phil. "I love you guys, you guys are my family."
"I'm just going to take one day at a time and just stay strong and just stay positive and just rebuild," said Terry firmly.
One positive thing the Leanios would like to see come out of the North Bay fires is a better notification system for fire victims.
They believe a city or countywide siren or evacuation notice by cell phone, similar to how an Amber Alert