SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Debora Villalon) - A reunion Thursday night brought tears to a Santa Rosa woman, seeing the deputy who saved her, for the first time since the Tubbs Fire.
"Thank you, thank you," wept Jennifer Arrington, as she hugged Deputy Mark Aldridge in the lobby of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Dept.
Arrington, accompanied by her 12-year-old son Tommy, had waited eleven days to catch-up with the man they spent a harrowing night with.
"It's about to come over the ridge at Mark West Lodge," narrates Arrington, on cell phone video she shot while fleeing her home Sunday night. "This is real, this is not a joke," she adds, worriedly.
Mark Aldridge and other deputies were all over the hill, evacuating people as the fire advanced into Santa Rosa.
Then he heard his sergeant, ahead of him, warn: No Pass!
Fire was everywhere, and on both sides of the road, so Aldridge stopped and started waving fleeing cars onto the pavement at a former restaurant.
"I just knew the parking lot was there, and it's the only parking lot around, " Aldridge told KTVU, "and I figured fire can't burn it."
That's how three dozen people, from infants to elderly, ended up huddled in their cars as fire whipped all around them.
The veteran deputy assured them they were going to be all right, even though he had no way of knowing that.
"I was just keeping people calm, keeping calm myself, and listening to what's going on in Larkfield," Deputy Aldridge recalled.
On his radio, he could hear pandemonium: neighborhoods burning, and people needing rescue,
He felt helpless, and he had a caravan of evacuees looking to him for survival.
"Young mothers, like one with a four month baby, she was throwing up behind her car, thought she was going to watch her babies burn, and I hugged her," recounted Arrington.
As flames neared, Aldridge had everyone cluster their cars together and hunker inside.
"He had us put towels over the windows for the heat, and we had to get into the center of our cars, so I covered my son in towels and had him lay his head on the console," described Arrington.
What she and others found remarkable, during those five long hours, was the deputy's demeanor: keeping his tone light, checking on everyone from car to car, chatting and handing out treats for the kids.
Aldridge admits he was more scared than he let on, but didn't want anyone to panic and bolt.
"And some of them tried," he explained, " there were a few that didn't want to be here, and you can tell, you can see in their face, but there's nowhere else to go, literally, there's no other place to go!"
Aldridge had flagged a passing fire engine to keep everything wet, and figured if the fire came, it might burn over them fast.
There were times they could feel the heat, hear trees exploding, and see 30 foot flames, but in the end the fire came within 100 yards of the lodge, and missed them.
As it waned, the caravan snaked slowly down the hill single file, through smoking ruins on all sides, and split off in different directions.
But Arrington had to find the man she felt made such a difference, and such a connection with everyone, during the ordeal.
"If that's not a miracle, that's a leader, right?," she mused, "because he was going to die too."
Aldridge has two children, and his son, 12, presented him with a handmade gift, a medal, after hearing what he'd done
But Aldridge insists any deputy would have reacted the same way.
"I'm no hero , I'll put it to you that way. You just got to do what you got to do."