SARASOTA (FOX 13) - A vacation to Wine Country turned into a harrowing experience for a group of people from Sarasota. A wildfire burning in California forced them to evacuate in the middle of the night. They got out with minutes to spare.
Last Sunday, the group had just arrived at their rental home at Silverado Country Club in Napa, looking forward to a week of wine tasting and relaxation.
"We had this wonderful dinner outside. The sky was blue. There was a nice breeze," said Michael Barfield. "We were just having the best of time enjoying the house."
That night, they drifted off to sleep, aware of wildfires in the state, just not any nearby.
"I smelled smoke inside my bedroom because I'd opened the windows," Barfield said. "I actually thought someone had found some wood for the fireplace outside."
In the middle of the night, one of the friends visiting from Miami got an urgent text from a friend they hadn't seen in 20 years.
"The friend said, hey, everyone is evacuating from there aren't you guys getting out," said Varinia Van Ness.
As everyone was being woken up, Barfield went outside to find patrol cars racing down the road.
"He said it's going to be here in minutes, get out now and get out of the area, it's an evacuation," Barfield recalled. "I could see no actual fire just a bright orange glow over the hillside and smoke everywhere."
In seconds, the glow became flames.
"By the time I looked back up to the ridge that had been aglow, the fire had come over the ridge and was coming down the ridge at a pretty alarming speed. I've never seen fire move like that," Barfield said.
"The moon was orange. You looked at the moon and it looked like the sun at sunset," Van Ness said.
They grabbed what they could and hit the road in the rental car.
"I remember sitting in the backseat thinking this is a nightmare. This is something you want to wake up from," said Michael Scire.
When they were finally able to return, they realized how fortunate they were and how others, sadly, were not.
"The house made it," Barfield said. "The house directly across the street did not. The only thing that remained standing was a chimney and fireplace."
Officials say 100-year-old Charles Rippey and his 98-year-old wife Sara died in that fire.
"As I heard about that and heard about people that perished in the fire just a block or two away from us, that's what hit us hard," said Richard Scire. "It's very different than when you get to see the aerial footage on TV and that's when you realize how close you came to dying, really."
The group finished their vacation in Lake Tahoe, thankful to have made it out alive.
In addition to the text message, the group said other factors helped them get to safety. Because of a recent head injury, Barfield couldn't drink alcohol on the wine tours. So, he volunteered rent a car and be their designated driver. Had it not been for that rental car, they would've had to escape on foot and could've been in a much more dangerous position.