A man is grieving after his 70-year-old mother, her boyfriend and her boyfriend's son died when flames from a wildfire swept across their North Bay property last week.
Robert McNeal said his mother Mary Hintemeyer, her boyfriend Leo McDermott and his son, Tom McDermott, took refuge from the LNU Lightning Complex Fire in a makeshift fire shelter on the Napa County property, but the trio never made it out alive.
"She was one of the most caring people that I've ever met," McNeal said of his mother, who he described as his best friend. "I hope I can get half of that in myself."
McNeal said he was in contact with his mother last Tuesday after the fire broke out. He said his mom drove out to a roadblock but turned around and went back for her boyfriend, who was in a wheelchair. She texted a photo of the fire and said they might have to go into the shelter, which was built into the side of a hill. Then the text messages stopped.
Mary, Leo and Tom did indeed take refuge in the shelter. That is where searchers later found their remains.
"Her biggest fear was actually burning," McNeal said. "She didn't even want to be cremated. That's pretty much the way things ended up."
The only belonging McNeal could find of his mom’s was a porcelain trinket.
McNeal said he wants others to understand the importance of heeding evacuation warnings and to not be fooled into thinking they can survive a wildfire.
"The message is get out," he said. "Don't worry about your stuff. Your family is going to have to deal with the aftermath of you not getting out. And that's way worse than losing your property."