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The Fire Incident

The weekend of October 26–27, 2019 was beautiful—except for the wind! On Saturday, my husband Dan and I had enjoyed walking around downtown Commons with my cousin, her husband, and a good friend who had driven from San Francisco to visit us in Sacramento. On Sunday, Dan and I went to our church in Midtown with plans to meet up with the group for lunch at a restaurant near our house.

By Saturday night, the wind had begun to pick up, and it was forecast that gusty winds would be around for Sunday. People in California know about the dangers of wildfires caused by high winds! We had seen the news over the last few days of the Kincade fire in Sonoma County in Northern California. And the 2018 Paradise fire in Butte County was still in the back of our minds. But the danger of a wildfire near our home seemed remote as we are not in any foothill or mountain area.

As we drove toward the restaurant after church on Sunday, we saw black smoke in the distance. It seemed to be coming from the area where our house was located, so Dan and I decided rather than taking Highway 80 towards the restaurant, we would continue on Highway 5, to check that everything was okay at home. But, one mile away, we were stopped by traffic. At that point we were just annoyed by having to wait in traffic.

But our annoyance soon turned into fear! Dan was driving, and we were in the fourth lane, next to the right shoulder. Soon a fire engine drove by on the shoulder, then an emergency vehicle and highway patrol. Cars were lined up on the exit corridor on Arena Boulevard—and they were not moving. We started to see ashes flying in the air and smoke coming our way. There were no firemen or police to direct us what to do.

We presumed the fire was near us, and we started to feel anxious. I called my cousin to let her know that we were stuck in traffic and would be late for lunch. We video called our younger son Adam, who lives near us, and told him what was happening. He had worked for the police department before, and we thought he could advise us in this situation. As more ashes came closer, Dan started to repeatedly say that we were going to die. Then my imagination went wild, thinking that all the cars trapped on the freeway were going to burst into flames! We wanted to get out of the car and escape the fire, but we didn’t see other people doing that. Adam advised us not to get out of the car. He called his older brother, Evan, who was in Japan and sleeping, and Evan sent a link to an official website which told what to do if you are caught driving in a wildfire. It said, “Stay in your car!”

Forty-five minutes from the time we first stopped on the freeway, the ashes and smoke were getting thicker around us. Dan was contemplating climbing the wire fence on the side of the freeway, next to the shoulder, when we saw in our back mirror that some cars were driving through an opening someone had cut in the wire fence. We decided to turn the car around on the shoulder and get in line to exit through the fence which opened onto a huge dirt field leading to a housing development across from it.

As we were waiting to get through the fence opening, our fear became more intense. Fire was coming closer and closer toward us. Looking over my right shoulder—we were now facing south and the fire was coming from the north—I saw flames sweeping down the bushes in the median and on the other side of the freeway with embers blowing over cars, big-rig trucks, and freeway signs. The wind was gusting, and flames were shooting up high in the air as the vegetation in the median caught fire.

Dan started to get hysterical, screaming that we were going to die. I felt death very real and close. We were both screaming and praying, thinking we were going to perish in the fire. Having called our son earlier, we had stayed on the phone with him. Poor Adam was on the phone the whole time, witnessing his parents suffering this horror. I told Adam that if we didn’t make it, to tell everyone we loved them. My body physically reacted to fear—my limbs became weak, and my mouth was so dry I could hardly swallow.

We were two cars away from the fence opening—actually more cars were waiting in the other direction—when we saw flames coming down on the driver’s side, since we had turned around on the freeway. The fire was about 20–30 feet away. At that point, we decided we needed to get out of the car to escape the fire. (Dan later told me that three times, amidst his hysteria, he had a calm and clear thought in his head telling him to get out of the car.)

We got out of the car and began running on foot. Through the fence opening, squeezing by a vehicle, we ran as fast as we could down a ravine and through the dirt field. After I could no longer run on the uneven dirt field, Dan dragged me a few steps, when along came a car whose driver told us to get in. This good Samaritan also stopped to pick up a young lady who was running behind us and then drove us to the restaurant where my cousins and friend were anxiously waiting for us. We invited the young woman to join us so that afterwards we could help her find her family. She had lost her cell phone while running from the fire.

When I walked into the restaurant and saw my cousins and good friend, I burst into tears uncontrollably. I realized in that moment that life is so precious! You never know what the next moment may bring.


Dan and I can say for sure that God was with us the day of the fire. We believe that God is always with us—though it was so much more apparent during the fire incident. With certainty, the thought in Dan’s head telling him to get out of the car was from God. The messages were clear and calming amidst the extremely fearful emotions he was experiencing. If we had stayed in our car, we would have been injured or even died. Our car was one of three vehicles that got burned completely. The car of the young woman who ran behind us was also burned completely. Dan and I thank God for saving us and all the people involved in that freeway fire. God was so gracious. No one was injured or died!

Even though Dan and I made several wrong decisions during this incident, God was merciful and saved us from harm. We made the wrong choices by continuing on Highway 5 instead of connecting to Highway 80 and by turning around onto the shoulder on the freeway. (The three cars that were burned completely were on the shoulder and probably burned due to the grass growing there.) God also spared our sons, Adam and Evan, the tremendous guilt they would have felt had we stayed in the car and gotten injured or worse.

After the fire incident, now the COVID-19 pandemic has brought fear again—a fear that lingers with the possibility of death. Death is a sure thing for all of us in this world—whether from a fire, a deadly virus, or something else. Though death is with us because of sin, those who believe in Jesus have great hope. Jesus won the victory over death. God sent His Son, Jesus, to this earth to die on the cross for our sin. And through His death and resurrection, we can be reconciled to God and receive eternal life.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).

When we were facing death in the fire, we prayed for the people around us on the freeway. Since that experience, I have been led to pray more fervently for all who do not know Jesus as Savior. Oh, that they would receive Him, so that—whether in death or life—they would enjoy eternal life. Amen!


The Highway 5 fire in Natomas, that we were caught in, was one of many wildfires that happened on October 27, 2019, in California, due to extreme windy conditions. It started on a dirt mound by a hotel near Del Paso Boulevard next to the freeway and spread south to the Arena Boulevard freeway exit corridor, down the median and shoulders on both sides of the freeway. The fire was only cut off at the connection to Highway 80 by a large cement structure at the interchange, where there was not much vegetation.

Dan and Sharon Santucci live in Sacramento, California, and are members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Midtown.

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20210102
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Jan-Mar 2021. CCMUSA.