SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - Majority of the victims who died in the North Bay wildfires were elderly. Among them was 82-year-old Carmen McReynolds from Santa Rosa, who was a retired doctor. Her family said she died trying to escape the flames.
McReynolds planned every detail of her life including arrangements for the end of her life. However, her family was not prepared she would die in the manner in which she did.
“I feel very sad that she would have to die in a moment of terror and pain,” said McReynolds’s Nephew Gabriel Coke. “I think that's really tragic and heartbreaking.”
Coke said his aunt didn't have a cell phone. Unable to reach her on her land line, he grew more worried as the scope of the fires became more apparent.
Relying on satellite footage, he saw what once was her home and other homes in the Fountain Grove neighborhood reduced to ashes.
Authorities notified the family Saturday search teams had located her remains inside her 1973 Mercedes convertible inside her garage.
“She had the will to live,” said Coke. “She was fighting to do something and that's as far as she could make it. I realize there wasn't any power. In the dark and in a panic, she couldn't get the garage door open.”
Serial numbers from her double-hip replacement helped identify McReynolds. Coke remembers his aunt as a strong person who gave him a pocket knife when he was five years old.
“She was just a no-nonsense gal from out west,” said Coke. “She liked Hank Williams. She could shoot a rifle and she could ride a motorcycle.”
McReynolds grew up in Durango, Colorado following in her father's footsteps becoming a doctor. She moved to Hayward working in internal medicine for Kaiser Permanente before retiring in Santa Rosa in 1995.
McReynolds was divorced. She lived with a best friend who died 10 years ago. Coke now wishes his aunt could have spent more time with his two daughters.
“We have this feeling when we are in town we are safe,” said Coke. “Apparently we are not safe. This is an urban wildfire. I think everyone was caught by surprise at the scale and scope of this particular urban wildfire. I’m still kind of amazed when I look at the satellite images.”
He is comforted by the outpouring of support from people who were willing to help find her and are grieving with him. His aunt is survived by her older brother and younger sister. He said she planned to give her wealth and belongings to charity.