Ken Albers shuffled slowly through his burning showroom on Monday, passing three of his 16 classic Chevrolets, the paint of which had melted and charred and which, like the rest of his Vacaville home, were being destroyed.
The retired 72-year-old surveyor had lived on the five-hectare property for 30 years with his 70-year-old wife Marci. They were both lifelong collectors. His wife lost her 500 Ginny dolls, stamp collection, antiques and Albers lost his 500-piece train set, 200 plastic car models. And all of the classically restored Chevys melted and roasted – including eight Corvettes and a few vehicles from the 1930s.
“It’s pretty devastating,” said Ken Albers. “There is nothing left of the house but the chimney.”
The Albers, who live in Northern California, had seen the glow of forest fires in the distance for the past few years. It happened again on Tuesday night when they were getting ready for bed. From the window the hills above Berryessa Lake glowed orange.
Everything changed by 2 a.m. on Wednesday – quickly. He received a call from PG&E warning him of a power outage. He looked out the window again, this time flames were going up the hill.
Soon there was a firefighter over a loudspeaker ordering evacuations in the small housing estate on 5 to 10 acres at the end of English Hills Road.
“He told us there was no fire fighting, you got to get out,” said Ken Albers.
As they packed their two dogs Zooey and Reggie into their two cars, they received a phone call from Solano County announcing the evacuations.
“We went with the clothes on our backs,” he said. “Fire was everywhere … I dodged run-down poles and burned poles.”
Now everything they put into their hobbies is gone – their treasured collections.
There was a 1936 Chevy standard car that was back in stock. There was a 1938 two-door Chevy sedan. A 1954 Chevy Bel Air convertible. The eight Corvettes – from 1957 to 2016. And the 1970 Chevy Camaro that his wife bought is brand new.
“I think it always crossed your mind,” said Ken Albers on Monday from a hotel in Vacaville where he and his wife are staying for the time being. “For the past 4 or 5 years there has always been a fire coming in our general direction, and so we were always aware, but it had never come this close.”
They don’t know if they will rebuild.
“As far as collecting goes, it took all the winds out of our sails,” said Ken Albers.
The couple lived in a hotel room and have returned to their former home to search the rubble while pondering what to do next. It was too early to say whether they would return to Vacaville.
“We’re just trying to find an apartment,” he said.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to support the couple.
Matthias Gafni is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @mgafni