Family of Angel the cow still struggling to rebuild, return to ranch nearly two years after Tubbs fire
Angel is doing fine.
She is, of course, the mellow Texas longhorn that became a highly visible and prized symbol of survival upon emerging from the 2017 firestorm that killed the woman who adored her as a pet. Today, Angel seems as content as ever to occupy a corral between Highway 101 and Coffey Lane in north Santa Rosa.
If only Houston Evans Jr., the cow’s primary keeper and the son of Tubbs fire victim Valerie Lynn Evans, could say that almost two years after the conflagration he, his wife and his father are doing as well.
“I thought we’d be so much further along than this,” Evans, a tall and sturdy and clearly aching man of 50, said from between Angel’s pen and the bare earth upon which his family’s two Craftsman-style homes stood.
“Everybody in Coffey Park is almost done (with reconstruction). Two years and I’m here in a corn patch.”
Evans worries about what he, his wife, Victoria, and his dad, Glyn, will do at the end of the year when the insurance money that pays for a rental house in Penngrove runs out.
Gnawing at him, too, is a sense that his late mother looks down and sees that all this time after she died going back into her burning home to retrieve her dog, her family hasn’t yet restored its life on the north Coffey Lane land it moved onto in 1978.
Houston Evans owns plans for a spacious log house to be assembled there. But for myriad reasons, chief among them the time it took to settle his mother’s estate because she died without a will or trust, his quest to get construction started hasn’t turned a single shovel of dirt.
“I can’t fail,” he said after showing architectural drawings of a manufactured log house on his cellphone. “This has to happen.”
But when? Evans’ eyes welled as he took stock that it’s nearly September and he can’t yet say when work will begin on the home’s foundation.
“The rain’s coming,” he said.
Millions of drivers know right where the Evans family lived until the tragic and terrifying night of Oct. 8, 2017. As one passes by the 2-acre ranch immediately west of Highway 101 between River Road and Hopper Avenue, it’s reflexive to scan the fence for a glimpse of the family’s 1,600-pound longhorn.
Chaos inhabited that ranch when the Tubbs fire vaulted the highway. As Valerie Evans, a professional equestrian well known in the local trucking industry, and her ex-husband and their son and daughter-in-law scurried, they became separated.
The last time Glyn Evans, now 90, saw his friend and former wife, he was running to pull a trailer with a tractor and shouted to her that he’d be right back.
Valerie Evans, 75, then went into her home as flames ate at it to retrieve her aged dog, Scooter. Both died.
The woman’s family was not able to evacuate Angel the cow amid the horror.
Once Glyn, Houston and Victoria Evans could return to the ruins of their ranch, they saw that Angel was unscathed and within their sorrow flickered a glimmer of joy, gratitude and hope.
Valerie Evans’ family found a rental in Penngrove and moved Angel there. Glyn Evans said in March 2018 that Valerie’s pet cow was then all the more precious to him.
“About like life and death. She means that much to me,” he said. “She means everything to me right now. She brings my wife back to me in a good way.”
Tales of the survival of the then 16-year-old longhorn lifted the spirits of people throughout the vast fire zone.
Early in 2018, Evans family friend Sandy Elliott and photographer Rick Tang produced and placed in Angel’s vacant corral a billboard bearing a portrait of the gloriously horned, speckled cow and the words, “In Loving Memory of Valerie Evans.”
Community members rose up to help support Angel and contribute to the Evanses’ quest to return to the ranch on the rural northern stretch of Coffey Lane, a few blocks from the wholesale destruction of the Coffey Park neighborhood.
A GoFundMe appeal by cat rescuer Dave Yarger brought in more than $11,000.
A year ago, Angel and Glyn Evans savored VIP treatment at the Sonoma County Fair. Not long after that fair, the Evans family gratefully received from Angel fans Suzette Baker and James Selby a nearly life-sized metal sculpture of a Texas longhorn.
Aware that it pleases many people to see Angel back on the ranch, the Evanses months ago returned her there. Today Angel and her metal likeness inhabit the ranch, but construction delays aggravated by the probate process and a glitch in getting a property appraisal leave Houston Evans, his wife and his father at the rental in Penngrove.
Houston Evans drives to the ranch daily to feed Angel and make sure she’s OK. Breathing down his neck is the knowledge that his insurance company will stop paying the rent on the Penngrove home at the end of the year.
“We’re trying to figure out what to do,” he said.
Evans said the manufactured log house should go up quickly once the complex construction permit process is completed. “It takes five days to put that structure up once the foundation is ready,” he said.
But when he’ll be able to start the work, he wishes he could say.
The son of the late Valerie Evans was seated on the tailgate of his pickup only yards from his celebrity cow when he said, “I just want to come home.”