SONOMA, Calif. — When towering flames swept over their neighborhood in Sonoma County, George and Lynne Anderson Powell started rounding up their four border collies.
“We had no warning and at 1 in the morning, we looked up and there was a wall of fire coming over the house,” George Powell said.
His wife grabbed their dog Gemma and drove down the road early Monday leading out of their rural neighborhood in her blue Prius.
The other three dogs were terrified, so it took George Powell a few minutes to find them and get them in his car, he said. He followed his wife of 33 years shortly afterward.
Continuing Coverage: California Wildfires
“When I went down 15 minutes later, I didn’t know that she had already gone off the road and was consumed by flames,” Powell said.
He fled and made it out safely. Police found Lynne Powell’s body two days later, along with Gemma.
The fires have killed 36 people in Northern California since they began Sunday night, with many bodies badly burned, reduced to ash and bones, when rescuers found them. In some cases, authorities used dental records, fingerprints, tattoos and serial numbers on hip implants to identify people.
“She had gotten out of the car, and she was trying to get Gemma out of the car and she didn’t survive,” George Powell said.
The smoke and flames were so bad, he almost went off the road in the same area.
“The flames were just roaring over the top of the car and the smoke was blinding me so much that I almost went off the same curve,” he said. “Then I had to drive through many, many miles of burning fire.”
He has not been able to return home, but his neighbors have told him it was destroyed, along with most of the couple’s photos, his wife’s quilting and other mementos.
“There’s nothing left,” he said. “If I had my way, I would have gone with her. I would have died with her.”
Powell said theirs was “the most wonderful marriage I could ever imagine.”
The woman he described as his soul mate was a cancer survivor who was undergoing radiation treatments. But that didn’t stop her from getting up at 5 a.m. to work with their dogs. She loved quilting and always kept in touch with friends.
“She was an incredible person. She had an incredible lust for life; no matter what came to her in life, she overcame,” he said.
Powell is staying with friends from their border collie group and said he’s grateful for all the generosity.
“People are helping each other. I’ve never seen such kindness,” he said.
He urged people to get in touch with neighbors and make a plan for warning others if something such as this happens in their neighborhood.