Residents were fleeing from wildfires, but what this guy did—he’s a hero

October 24, 2017 1:46 pm Last Updated: November 4, 2017 3:51 pm

The Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa was on fire the night of the Tubbs Fire, the most recent of the California wildfire tragedies.

If you have never seen a wildfire up close, it’s difficult to describe just how fierce they can be. When they encroach on a densely populated area in the middle of the night while most are still sleeping, it has death and disaster written all over it.

It all happened so fast.

On this particular night in the Coffey Park community, there was one guy who saved many, many lives and is being heralded as a hero—21-year-old Don Riveras.

Kelli Riveras, Donny’s mom, was driving her horse trailer to a nearby ranch to rescue some horses when the fire reached Coffey Park. She got a brief call from her son.

“Donny called and he sounded panicked,” Kelli told KQED News. “He said, ‘Mom, things are not good here,’ and he hung up.”

But Donny didn’t rush to evacuate like the other residents. He walked (and ran) door to door that late night/early morning. He was delivering the message as best he could to as many as he could—get out now!

The plan was to knock and knock some more!

Riveras said he and his roommate, Jon Edmunds, had knocked on so many doors that evening that he couldn’t even remember who they visited.

But they do remember Anna Solano’s. He saw the security camera by her door and looked directly into it in the hope that she would see him.

“Every house before had opened the door and hers was the first where someone didn’t, so I was worried,” said Riveras to KQED. “So I pounded a little extra hard and waited until I got that little yell from upstairs and that was good.”

In the video recorded by a security camera that Solano had installed facing her front porch, Riveras was seen knocking on her door while people were rushing away in their cars in the dark, lit only by the flames of the massive fire.

“He knocked on our door for like a minute and a half until we woke up,” Solano told KQED. “And I left in three minutes. I didn’t take anything, just my dog. I took one car.”

The last transmission from the camera was just 40 minutes later and showed sparks flying past the door.

By the morning the whole community was burnt to the ground.

 

Solano later wanted to find out who the young man was that had saved her life, so she shared the video with KQED News.

Readers identified Riveras, and Solano later met with him to express her thanks.

“I was happy to see she was OK,” Riveras said regarding their meeting. “She’s taking everything pretty well. She’s a very strong woman and everything’s going to be OK.”

Another resident, Fran Bengtsson, saw what Donny did that night and also credits him with saving her life.

“He went across the street to this area, and he went down the street all the way over to Mocha Lane,” explained Bengtsson to KQED. “He was just incredible. If he hadn’t knocked on my door, you would not be holding a microphone to my mouth right now. So a hero. Just a tremendous hero. And so blessings on him, he saved my life.”

Donny didn’t think about his safety or possessions.

(KPIX 5 News/Screenshot)

It took about 30 minutes for the area to be completely destroyed and the fire marshal told them they had 5 minutes to evacuate, said Riveras.

He said firefighters did all they could, but he wondered why no one else was helping wake people up. For him, the choice to run or help others was an easy one.

“They could have died, and I don’t think I could have gone to sleep at night knowing I could have knocked on a door or two,” said Riveras.

Riveras himself lost everything he owned to the fire and the front of his red Ford truck literally melted from the heat.

Riveras wants to put the night of the fire behind him as quickly as he can. It had made a significant impact on the young man.

“I just kind of see it all as a bad dream. It isn’t real, so I just keep moving forward,” he said. For now, he’s looking for an apartment.

“Finding a place to live will be really hard right now with the prices in this county,” said Riveras.  “And at my age with not as much experience as most, it will be tough to get back on my feet … but there’s nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it.”

For those interested in helping Riveras recover from his own loss, you can visit this GoFundMe site.

Below is a news report from KPIX 5 News showing the aftermath that the Tubbs fire left in Coffey Park.