SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - A Santa Rosa firefighter whose home burned while he was working the Tubbs Fire has now rebuilt, and is ready to move in a year later.
It was Sunday, October 8 of 2017 when Paul Lowenthal touched down at the airport after a vacation in Hawaii.
Lowenthal, an assistant Fire Marshall with the Santa Rosa Fire Department, arrived at his house in Santa Rosa's Larkfield Estates and began to unwind. But suddenly his two cell phones began to ring, and Lowenthal knew something was wrong.
"I was getting calls of multiple fires," said Lowenthal who is also a spokesperson for CalFire. "One big fire was in Napa County and I jumped into my work truck and started heading that way."
Lowenthal says as he was driving up Mark West Springs Road he noticed sheriff deputies driving the opposite direction past him, and suddenly he also turned around. "When I hit the fire I tried to drive through it thinking it was a small fire in Sonoma County. Once I realized the magnitude of it, I turned around and got out of it."
Lowenthal realized the fire in Napa County was charging right toward the Sonoma County city of Santa Rosa. "I remember we'd pull into a court and you'd see spot fires establishing themselves in these neighborhoods. And then you would move up into another cul-de-sac and see fences on fire, and by the time you come back the house is on fire and you just kept seeing house after house and block after block of homes on fire as people are getting out.
As the Tubbs fire raged into the city Lowenthal, along with a battalion chief from CalFire, started to alert as many people as he could to get out now. "Visibility was next to nothing, we drove around with windows down so we could hear people so we knew which driveways to pull in, but at the same time we couldn't see anything. I was on my PA system yelling this is the fire department saying get out immediately."
Lowenthal says he never thought about his own home up until this point when he started hearing radio traffic about fire in the Larkfield-Mark West area. He started driving that way first and foremost he says to check the direction of the fire so he could relay the information to command.
"I remember getting close to the neighborhood, and the restaurant down the road was on the fire, the houses were on fire." said Lowenthal standing in his neighborhood today. "It just looked like one wall of fire. I immediately knew everything was gone."
Lowenthal, took on many roles that first week of the fire. He says he slept a total of six hours in five days. Not until his Chief told him to stop working on Friday, did he realize, he lost everything. "When I left that night I got in my work truck with my uniform still on, I realized I was starting from scratch."
Now, a year later and back on his lot, a new house is being built, one that will soon feel like home. And while there are plenty of empty lots still around him, there are also other new homes starting to stand. Lowenthal says he's happy with the progress being made in his once destroyed neighborhood. "Absolutely happy with progress, good to see a lot of homes being built."
Lowenthal hopes to move into his new home in November.