Humboldt Firefighters Save Homes and House Cats in Devastating Valley Fire
Totten who often works with search and rescue groups said she began to put together a story. “I imagined a grandmother being told to evacuate and calling a cat.” Because the fire came through so fast, Totten thinks the pet owner must have been forced to leave both cat and walker behind.
“I used my best grandmother voice and called, ‘Here, kitty. kitty,'” Totten said. About 20 feet away, she says she found a terribly injured “little, orange cat lying on the ground burnt pretty bad.” Twenty feet away from a residence which had been destroyed, there was the cat panting on the ground.
“It had no whiskers. One eye was burned. Its paws were hurt.” Totten thinks the injured pet must have laid there since the original fire burned through. “It would have had no food or water for six days,” she explained
The Humboldt Task Force had originally been deployed to protect structures as the inferno blazed across Lake County. The first day they faced terrifying flames. “I have done 30 fire seasons,” says Totten. “I went to my first fire in 1974. I’ve never seen anything as devastating as this… .”
The task force was spread out after that. “All of us were actively engaged in fighting fire and saving homes,” Totten said. “We were able to get between the flames and the houses. We were able to knock them down and keep the homes safe…[In some cases] we saved the house but lost a lot of outbuildings…We worked a 24 hour shift that turned into over 30 hours.”
As Cal Fire began to subdue portions of the flames, the task force was assigned to go to burned over areas, identifying and mitigating hazards so that residents could return to their homes. “For example, we found plastic septic tanks that were burnt and left big holes in the ground,” said Totten.
Another concern the firefighers had was live electrical line. Although PG&E is out in many areas, Totten noted that “a lot of homes have alternative energy through the mountains where we are working. Their lines have live energy.” Totten says the task force’s job was to identify these types of problems so “when people come home to see their houses the first time, there won’t be any hazards.”
“One of the other things we are told to look for is pets or animals,” Totten explained. “[The residents] left in such a hurry, it is unbelievable. They left without being able to find their pets. We founds dogs and horses and donkeys. Yesterday, we found six chickens penned. They had burned feathers. We got some of our lunch and fed them and gave them some water.”
Each time a pet is found, the task force contacts the animal rescue people. Totten said, “Two of the kitties we found were flown to Davis…We found four alive cats in that neighborhood…. We keep addresses or mile markers [of where they are found] because the mail boxes are all burned so they can be matched to their owners… “It was a good feeling to think some grandmother who had to leave without her walker or her pets will someday be reunited with her kitty.”
Firefighters do more than fight flames, Totten explained. “We save houses. We save pets. We’ve done everything we can to make it not so brutal to the home owner when they return.”
As the Humboldt Task force moves through a wasted landscape, the near total destruction can be depressing. Saving homes and saving pets helps, explained Totten. “Our task force saved a couple baby squirrels….We aren’t able to save everything but, if we can save something, it makes a difference.”
Earlier Chapters of this Story:
- Another Major Blaze Ignites in Lake County, Vehicles Trapped on Road, Multiple Structures Reported Burning, Firefighters Injured
- 62 Square Miles of Lake County Devastated by Fire
- Swift Moving Valley Fire Burns 95 Square Miles, Only 5% Contained
- Valley Fire: Over 100 Square Miles and Only 15% Containment [The Latest Maps]
- Valley Fire Forces Evacuations in Three Counties as It Continues to Grow
- Valley Fire’s Death Toll Rises, Updates on the Inferno, Maps
- ‘Help Is Here!’ Residents Near Valley Fire Weep as Humboldt Led Convoy Brings Supplies
- Valley Fire’s Rampage Slowed by Rain, Firefighters Begin Corralling the Flames
- Over 4,200 Firefighters Battle the Destructive Valley Fire