Humboldt Firefighters Save Homes and House Cats in Devastating Valley Fire


The Humboldt Task Force rolling into Cobb after the Valley Fire forced residents to flee. [All photos from the Humboldt Task Force.]

In the ashes of the Valley Fire, Captain Diana Totten part of the Humboldt County Task Force sent to battle the inferno, spotted a walker the day before yesterday. Underneath the walker, where the seat had burned through, sat a small amount of partially burned cat food.


An abandoned walker left in the backyard of a burned over residence squats over a pile of cat food. Capt. Diana Totten thinks this indicates that someone may have been trying to entice frightened pets in close so they could be evacuated.

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


Diana Totten cuddles injured orange cat found not far from the walker shown above.

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.”

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One of the Humboldt Task Force rests on the floor after working for hours. Some sleep feels so good after 30 hours on, said Diana Totten.

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:



  • Thank you for all that agony mitigation effort.

  • Diana Totten your my hero.god bless your heart of have a tough job and you rock at it !!!thanks so much for all you do.please take care

  • musta got sumpin in my eyes…thanks for the hard and desperate work, you are the best of us.

  • I don’t know you but I love you!
    You and all fire fighters are true heroes and this is solid proof, thank you and your crew(and all firefighters) for everything you do.

    • Thanks so much for all you volunteers do. My brother and his wife have a summer home on Cobb mtn. in Loch Lomond so thank you for helping save it and all the animals. It must have been a tough job emotionally.

  • This story is so beautiful – Diana Totten, you and your task force are the epitome of courage and compassion – and my heart feels full of gratefulness and grief simultaneously. The world is a beautiful place really and my cup is surely half full. Thank you!

  • “Like snowfall on the river” — so fleeting is our tenure on this planet —

    ” We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity.”
    –E. O. Wilson

  • Thanks for all the years of service. You as well as your fellow firefighters are true heros. Stay safe.
    Great story, thanks for sharing.

  • Humboldt Task Force are the best of us. They are sacrificing their safety, time with their families and friends to help the folks who are struggling to survive this catastrophe. I am so grateful as well as proud of all of them.

  • Go Humboldt task force, y’all are so awesome!!!! 🙂

  • Thank you to everyone on the task force for doing what you do! Briceland Fire, Arcata Fire, Fortuna Fire, two engines from Humboldt Bay Fire, and the task force leaders from Humboldt Bay Fire….you are truly some of the best Humboldt has to offer!

  • What heart. There’s hope. af

  • thank you for all you do!

  • I worked with a gentleman by that last name in the 70s. He was a radiotelephone customer. I believe he cared for sheep . Either that or he was a logger. Sorry to be so vague but, just remembering as best as I can.

  • Dianna you and your fellow firemen are heros and angels. Thank you for all that you do and all that you are. Special humans in this day and age. <3

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