When Patrick Tripp awoke in the middle of the night in his Livermore home two weeks ago, he thought it was strange to hear rain outside -- it had been a cloudless day in mid-summer.
But after going to the window, he realized that it was no rain, but the sound of crackling flames.
"I opened the curtain and it was just a wall of flames," said the 29-year-old, who works as a chef at Pleasanton’s BottleTaps.
It was a fire that ultimately destroyed the house, which will now take eight months to a year to rebuild. But luckily, Tripp and the rest of the inhabitants of the home on Scott Street, pets included, were unharmed by the catastrophe -- with the help of passing good Samaritans who unthinkingly ran into the flames themselves.
The fire erupted a little after 2 a.m. on Aug. 18, beginning against the outside of the house. Tripp was with his girlfriend April Cespedes in his room, an addition that adjoins the rest of the structure.
After seeing the wall of flames, he and Cespedes raced out of the room into the common areas of the house, yelling "Fire!" to alert Tripp's parents and younger sister, who were asleep on the other side of the home. It was especially imperative, as they were in the midst of remodeling, and new smoke detectors had not yet been installed.
And once out of Tripp's room, they collided with two young women also screaming at the top of their lungs -- passersby who had sprinted in upon seeing the flames.
Sarah Coulson, 19, and Gabby Smith, 17, were on their way home from work at Campo di Bocce when they saw the fire.
"We'd heard all these crazy stories about California wildfires, and this and that, and it's all over social media and stuff like that," Coulson said. "We'd never seen it in person before, it was surreal."
They didn't pause to think, but ran inside, Coulson said.
"I didn't have any other decision or any other thought in my head other than go in the house, get everyone out, regardless of what happens," she said.
In the rush of the moment, neither Tripp nor Coulson remembers the house's interior being particularly smoky. But it was incredibly hot, Tripp said, especially when he opened the door at one point to see if they could "battle" the fire themselves.
"I got a pretty good sunburn on my back and neck," Tripp said.
After all the house residents and the family's three dogs had been herded out -- with Smith using her apron as a make-shift leash -- the crew phoned for help, with the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department arriving on-scene at 2:24 a.m. The fire had climbed up to the attic. Fire personnel had the fire under control in 20 minutes, according to Joe Testa with the LPFD, and managed to rescue one of the dogs who had run back inside.
"That was another reason we're so thankful for those girls," Tripp said. "We all ran out without cell phones and stuff, and they were able to call 9-1-1 and document the fire for us and everything with their cell phones."
"I'm so grateful that everyone's OK," Coulson said. "Things happen for a reason I believe, so I feel like we were in the right place at the right time."
The fire's cause is still under investigation. Tripp said that at the fire's starting point, there were no electrical outlets or anything that could have sparked the blaze -- investigators are currently looking into arson as a possibility, he said.
A fire investigator recently assessed the damage, and determined that the home was not salvageable and would need to be demolished and rebuilt completely, Tripp said, though luckily insurance will cover rebuild costs. A GoFundMe has been set up to support the family, and BottleTaps will be having a fundraiser Friday, featuring musical performances and Tripp himself will smoke a whole hog.
Tripp said that mostly he wants to alert others to the reality of fire danger, and the importance of ensuring smoke detectors are installed and functioning. And he's grateful to the young women passing by, and that everyone was able to escape.
"We lost a few memories and some family heirlooms and things like that, so that kind of hurts," he said. "But everything else can be replaced, and you can't replace lives, you can't replace pets. That's the most important thing."