Dorothy Larson, age 92, was discharged from a Kaiser hospital in early October after heart valve surgery and brought home to spend one night alone before her daughter joined her.
As fate would have it, that was the night the Atlas Fire swept through her Silverado neighborhood, prompting a mass evacuation.
Public safety workers went down her street, commanding everyone to leave as the sky over Kaanapali Drive turned red and embers flew. Most residents did evacuate, but not Larson.
She was soundly sleeping.
Larson recalls waking up after 3 p.m. to a dark house. The electricity was off and “it was just as quiet as could be.” Looking outside, she saw the hills ablaze.
“All I could see was a vacant street,” she said later. “That was not fun. What am I going to do now?”
With the fire that close, there was no time to call her daughter in Fairfield, so she called her neighbor, Glenn Weckerlin, the hero of this story.
“He’s a guy I can always depend on,” she said.
Weckerlin was stunned to get Larson’s call. He’d decamped to a friend’s home in west Napa after making sure everyone on his street had received the evacuation notice.
Having seen Larson’s house dark, he had believed she was still hospitalized in San Francisco.
When Larson called, Weckerlin sprang to action. “I said, ‘Dorothy, there’s fire on three sides of you. You have to go.’”
She remembers him saying, “Do not move. I’ll be there as quickly as I can.” In the meantime, she was instructed to get out her suitcases and fill them.
Weckerlin said he had to talk his way through a security line to reach the isolated Larson. If the public safety workers couldn’t immediately rescue his neighbor, he would, he said.
The fire was about 500 yards away when he arrived at Larson’s house. The “entire creek area” near her home was burning, he said.
Weckerlin said he tried to project an air of calm lest he aggravate Larson’s heart situation. He helped her fill her suitcases with clothes, folding them neatly, and assisted as she gathered up her medicines.
“You’d have thought we were packing for a cruise,” he recalled with humor. “She said, ‘Glenn, I’m in the insurance business. I might have to go into the office. I will need some outfits. Make sure you get the black one, not the blue one.’”
What happened next was positively cinematic. Larson said Weckerlin scooped her up, all 110 pounds, and carried her to his waiting Hummer.
That wasn’t the end of the adventure. “He said I have to take you on a little ride here,” Larson said.
With that, Weckerlin circled through the destruction zone, snapping photos of flaring gas lines and homes burning.
Larson said she witnessed some amazing sights from the safety of Weckerlin’s Hummer. “I saw every one of those beautiful homes on the other side of the golf course on fire, the telephone poles on fire,” she said.
Her adventure ended with Weckerlin driving to Nob Hill Market to report what he had seen to assembling firefighters. Then he went to South Napa Marketplace to unite Larson with her daughter Carolyn.
As it turned out, none of the 51 houses on Kaanapali Drive burned, Weckerlin said, but many neighbors were not so lucky.
Larson said she was never frightened through it all. “I take things in stride,” she said.
Weckerlin was a real hero that night, she said. He rescued a woman just back from the hospital who had been overlooked by her neighbors.