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Ona native loses home in California wildfire


The Herald-Dispatch

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Stephen Dille and Matthew Anderson woke up around 2:30 a.m. Monday to chiming devices because the power was flickering on and off, and 10 minutes later they left their home for the last time.

The chimney was the only thing left standing on Stephen Dille and Matthew Anderson’s plot of scorched earth.
(Submitted photo)

The house, which was the first they had bought together, caught fire as they were leaving.

Dille followed his husband on an unfamiliar back road out of the neighborhood, with their two dogs and a few personal belongings in tow, as propane tanks exploded nearby and first responders guided them through smoke-filled air.

They ended up at Anderson’s dental office for the night, and the Tubbs Fire had wiped out their entire community by the next morning. The chimney was the only thing left standing on Dille and Anderson’s plot of scorched earth, where they had lived together for about three-and-a-half years.

“It’s surreal,” said Dille, an Ona native who graduated from Cabell Midland High School and St. Mary’s School of Nursing. “It was pretty scary.”

Dille is a nurse manager at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, a level II trauma center. Since he and Anderson, both 40, evacuated their home at 2008 Dennis Lane, he has only gotten a few hours of sleep because the hospital has been working on overdrive to help the community.

The Tubbs Fire had destroyed 550 residential and 21 commercial structures over about 27,000 acres of land and threatened upward of 16,000 buildings by Tuesday evening, according to Cal Fire. Portions of Sonoma County, where Santa Rosa is located, were still under mandatory evacuation, and the Tubbs Fire was just one of more than a dozen wildfires ravaging California.

“The smell of smoke was present the night before, but that’s not always uncommon during wildfire season,” Dille said.

Dille’s mother, Marsha Dille, said he and his husband are both astute individuals and are capable of problem-solving, but she’s concerned about what she sees of the wildfires and other natural disasters on TV.

“It looked like a war zone,” she said, noting her son was upset about losing all of his family photos and a special measuring stick his grandfather had made. “My heart is just breaking for them.”

Dille and Anderson had been trying to make arrangements with friends and figure out where to stay next. While he has been trying to keep his mind occupied with work and off losing their home, Dille said what’s most important is that he and his husband made it out alive with their two dogs.

“Things could have been a lot worse,” he said.

The city of Santa Rosa has set up an online fundraiser for fire victims. For more information, visit

Follow reporter Joshua Qualls on Twitter @JQuallsHD.

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