Welcome to hell — and Augie, a horse with, for the moment, nowhere safe to go. But read on…
All images in this post — NO REPOSTING! — courtesy of photographer PeterDaSilva.
By Caitlin Kelly
As anyone watching the news knows, parts of California have been devastated by wildfires, causing thousands to flee their homes and, so far, 71 to lose their lives — with more than 1,000 people missing — the state’s deadliest fire in 17 years.
First responders and firefighters are helping residents flee to safety.
Including many pets and animals.
Members of the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team, Ashley Nola (left) and Catherine McFarren (right), tend to burns on a dog that was brought in to the Butte County Fair Grounds where large animals are being sheltered during the Camp Fire, as it continues to burn through the region, fueled by high winds in Butte County, California.
Redding policemen who promise to return, found a trailer to rescue Augie the horse after his owner had to leave him in a shopping center parking lot, as fire grew closer and she had to leave him since she had no way to get him out as the Camp Fire burned out of control through Paradise, California.
But so are some amazing journalists, one of them a dear friend, San Francisco-based photographer Peter daSilva, who I first met in 2012 when we worked on a New York Times story about Google together. He is a kind, gentle, meticulous professional.
I’m honored that Peter has allowed me to share his story here of helping a fleeing California woman save her beloved horse —– he’s been inundated with media requests, almost all of which he’s refused — but said I could tell it here, and to include his images, all of which were shot on assignment for the European Press Agency.
With his permission, I’ve reprinted the story (slightly edited) from his own Facebook page:
To Hilary Johnson and Augie of Paradise, Calif.- I just wanted to let you know that the three Redding law enforcement officers and myself kept our promise.
I met Hillary and Augie in a shopping center parking lot on the afternoon of Nov. 8th. She had just escaped the flames of the fire that burned through Paradise, CA with just the clothes on her back, riding Augie to a safe place.
Hillary lost her home and everything to the fire.
As she stood watching the impending movement of the fire with other residents of Paradise, law enforcement were encouraging all of us to leave, as the flames were just burning across the street.
While standing in the lot, Hillary in tears walked passed me. I stopped her to ask what was going on.
She had made the decision to set Augie free since there was no transport for him and she could not just leave him tied up in the lot.
As concern grew, three Redding officers who had rescued dogs left behind in abandoned homes talked her out of this decision. They were not going to let this happen…as instantly a brain storming session started on how to get Augie a ride. Aided with the help of locals, they were directed to a U-Haul location where they might be able to commandeer a trailer.
So off they went, setting off on a quest to save Augie.
So Hillary said her good byes, Can’t tell you how hard it was to watch that.
And yes I kept my camera at my side.
I promised her that I would stay as long as I could, to then cut Augie loose before the fire took over the area, as she and the other residents prepared to drive off to safety, with Augie tied to a shopping cart cage moved to a opening in the lot.
So there we were, Augie and I, standing in a parking lot ALONE with flames visible in the near distance, smoke turning day into night. Hoping for the officers to have found a trailer.
Funny what goes through your mind when you’re standing with a horse with hell surrounding you…
I put a blinking red LED light I use during protests on him, so he could be seen in the darkness of the choking smoke, if I did let him run.
Smoke continued to thickened darken the skies, when a truck with a utility trailer drove near — those three Redding officers!
With smiles on their faces, seeing we were still there. They spent no time getting the trailer opened. It took a little bit of coaxing to get him in to the trailer. About 5-10 minutes. Augie was amazingly calm and did what he needed to do.
Now it was time to leave, with three trucks, one with a utility trailer and myself. We convoyed through fire-lined streets of Paradise where I left them to continue to safety as I went back to work.
I have no idea if Hillary was reunited with him.
But I know I did the right thing.
Then the great news!
Hillary and Augie have been reunited!
Law enforcement officers from Redding were able to contact Hillary shortly after rescuing Augie, now being cared for at a ranch near Gridley.
Hillary is OK, banged up from a fall she took with Augie as they navigated four miles of fire and others fleeing, which spooked Augie the whole way from their home to the parking lot. She told me that she was sleeping in the back of a pickup truck somewhere in Chico.
First, I want to thank the true heroes…the first responders, firefighters and law enforcement officers from all over the state who put their lives on the line to save the residents, their animals, property and to protect what is left of the greater Paradise area.
I’m honored that you think I’m a hero, but it’s them you should honor.
As a member of the Press, not the “enemy of the people”. I and fellow colleagues bring you the information of what is happening in and around the fire area, the voices of your community when you are not there to witness it yourselves.
Please remember, we understand your heartbreak and sorrow, sometimes we are victims of these tragic events themselves, and that includes the first responders who are also affected by the loss of homes and lives. And they still have to continue doing our jobs.
We are all human when it comes down to it.
Sorry we ask hard questions and make images in seemingly the worst moments of your lives. We are your eyes and ears when you can’t be there. So please bear with us.
I can’t speak for my colleagues, but every time I cover events like this, it changes me. Sometimes for the better and some time for the worst. Just glad I can share my experiences through outlets that inform the world for the better of all mankind.
I just adhered to my personal moral obligation, to comfort a stranded new friend — it was not heroic.
I’m still working, doing 12-14 hour days covering the fire, working in the communication dead zone of the fire area most of the day. And then commuting back and forth to Sacramento for the night since all the available rooms are taken up by the displaced residents.
Augie and other animals are being taken care of, but their loved ones who care for them on a daily bases are VERY much in need too.