What California Firefighters Thought Was Just A Pile Of Ash Turned Out To Be A Puppy In Need Of Help

When the sky is hazy and orange and the air perpetually smells like smoke, it just may feel like the end of the world. For so many people, it is: California’s raging wildfires burned more than 3.8 million acres of land with no end in sight. In early September, all firefighter crews in Berry County, California, could do was fight the blaze and hope for even the smallest miracle — and they just may have found one.

Of the 27 wildfires ripping through California in the summer of 2020, it was the North Complex Wildfire (particularly the Bear fire) that turned Berry Creek upside down. Almost the entire town was wiped out by the fire, which left nothing but skeletal homes and ash in its wake.

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When it comes to wildfires, something as seemingly inconsequential as a change in wind can cause unimaginable destruction, and that’s exactly what happened in Berry Creek. As people fled for their lives, the firefighters closed in on the flames.

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Just because firefighters have been trained to, well, fight fires, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Containing wildfires is life-threatening work, and the sight of the flames plus the destruction left behind made them desperate for good news…

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This was especially true for the BCSO Search and Rescue team. It’s their job to sift through the wreckage left behind by the fires. They never know what they’re going to find, especially on a property like the one they saw that day in Berry Creek.

Little Fires Everywhere/Hulu

The BCSO Rescue team sifted through the charred remains of what used to be someone’s home. Surveying the dead remains of the house, they stepped over blackened furniture and crumbling walls. The last thing they expected to see was movement.

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But sure enough, wriggling under the burned furniture was a puppy! Dirty, but very much alive, the pup was covered in so much soot that he blended in with the wreckage. The rescuers scooped him up and gave him some water.

Butte County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook

It was hard to tell from the outside whether or not the puppy was seriously injured, so they brought him to Valley Oaks Veterinary Center. All the while, they couldn’t help but think the one thing we’re all thinking: Who on earth would leave a puppy behind?

Butte County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook

It’s a question many California-based pet owners have been asking themselves as the unimaginable suddenly becomes reality. What to do in the line of literal fire? If you’re forced to evacuate, what if you can’t fit your family and pets into your car?

Butte County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook

For so many pet owners, their pets are their family, so the thought of leaving them behind is almost unthinkable. But for this puppy’s family, it was a decision they had to make: With minutes to evacuate their home, their pup was nowhere to be found.

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According to his owners, there wasn’t much time between the evacuation order and the incoming fire. They scrambled to gather up all of their dogs, and were horrified when their puppy wasn’t among them.

They had to make a heartbreaking decision: Leave now and survive, or risk everything by searching for their puppy? With orange flames on the horizon, they had no choice but to hope the little puppy’s instincts would keep him alive without them.

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Thankfully, they were right to trust his animal instincts. Even as a puppy, he managed to escape the flames that destroyed the house and town around him. Not every family has been so lucky, however. 

With very little rain in the forecast, 27 major wildfires continued to burn in California and claimed the lives of at least 29 civilians. The number of animal fatalities (pets or otherwise) is unknown, but there are some steps you can take to keep your own pet safe.

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Experts at the Ready for Wildfire organization advise pet owners to make an evacuation supply kit for the whole family, including any domestic pets. For all pets including farm animals, come up with a detailed evacuation plan in case wildfire strikes.

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Is your pet carrier lodged between some old boxes in the attic? Make sure all pet carriers are easily accessible in case you need to make a quick exit. Readyforwildfire.org recommends assigning one pet to each family member, which should make evacuating a little easier. 

Ready for Wildfire Organization

Experts advise filling your Pet Disaster Preparedness Kit with two weeks’ worth of food and water, any medications your pet is taking, plastic bags for waste disposal, toys and treats, blankets, collars, and paper towels.

Since no one can control when evacuation orders will happen, it’s important to arrange for a neighbor to take your pet for you if you’re not home in time. Of course, then there’s the ultimate question: What to do if you can’t find your pet in time?

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Since pets are usually more attuned to nature than we are, they may sense fire and take cover before you even realize what’s going on. That’s exactly what happened to the puppy! There’s one thing you can do to make sure your pet isn’t alone. 

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Ready for Wildfire recommends that all pets have identification collars so they can be traced back to you. After our rescued puppy was examined by veterinarians, his rescuers came up with the perfect nickname for him.

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They decided to call him Trooper! By surviving a wildfire, Trooper has certainly lived up to his nickname. Thankfully, his time at the vet made it clear how the scary circumstances he was rescued under haven’t been too damaging for him.

Butte County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook

Miraculously, Trooper only suffered minor burns from the fire, and will most likely make a full recovery. This is not only good news for his family, who will be reunited with him soon, but for the rescuers, too. They were in the same position just two years prior.

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In November of 2018, the most destructive wildfire in California history ripped through the Golden State, decimating everything in its path. The blaze, known as the Camp Fire, destroyed 153,336 acres of land and caused between $7.5-$10 billion dollars in damages.

The Drinks Business

The Camp Fire was also the deadliest in the state’s history and the sixth-deadliest U.S. wildfire overall. After scouring the rubble of the almost 19,000 buildings and structures consumed by the fire, authorities reported a staggering 86 casualties.

Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

Of the communities ravaged by the blaze, however, none were more affected than the town of Paradise. All 27,000 residents were evacuated from their homes as the fire proceeded to destroy 95 percent of all buildings in the community.

Gove Tech

During the mad dash to escape the flames, the citizens of Paradise had little time to gather their possessions. Yet while the choice made by many to leave behind clothes, furniture, and even cars was surely a difficult one, there were others forced to sacrifice far more than just their valuables…

For Andrea Gaylord, the decision to abandon the home that had been in her family for ten generations was one of the hardest she’d ever made. But even as she watched as the century-old home went up in flames, something else made her heart ache more.

Today

As the Camp Fire made its way through Paradise, Andrea’s guard dogs, Madison and Miguel, had taken off and vanished without a trace. Though she and her husband had searched tirelessly for their beloved pets, the encroaching blaze forced the couple to flee, leaving the fate of the dogs unknown.

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Andrea and her husband fled to a nearby shelter, where, alongside hundreds of other evacuees, they waited for the fire to be extinguished. All the while, thoughts of Madison and Miguel never left her mind.

NSPR

Finally, after 17 days of non-stop firefighting, the raging Camp Fire blaze was contained. Like her fellow Paradise residents, Andrea was eager to return home, hoping somehow her dogs had survived. But when she and her husband attempted to leave the shelter, they were told that Paradise was still too unsafe to return to.

NPR

That’s when she contacted Shayla Sullivan of K9 Paw Print Rescue, who had actively been rescuing lost pets from areas affected by the Camp Fire. After learning of the situation, Shayla vowed to do whatever she could to reunite Andrea with Madison and Miguel.

Shayla Sullivan / Facebook

However, as soon as Shayla began her search, she received word of a dog matching Madison’s and Miguel’s descriptions wandering through the small city of Citrus Heights near Sacramento. The city was 85 miles south of Paradise.

Trover

Shayla drove down there, and when she arrived, she was stunned to find the dog described to her was, in fact, Miguel! Unbelievably, the dog had traveled from Andrea’s home in Paradise and had been picked up by another local rescue organization.

NBC News

Andrea was overjoyed when she heard the news about Miguel, but Shayla wasn’t satisfied with finding just one of the two pooches. And so, loading up her car once more, Shayla headed for Paradise.

KOMO

The roads were barely navigable as Shayla made her way through the once-vibrant town, a graveyard of charred homes and vehicles peering out at her from beneath the ashes of burnt treetops. Forget dogs for a second: with so much destruction, was it possible anything could’ve survived out here?

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Upon reaching Andrea’s burned-down property, however, Shayla got her answer. As she surveyed the scorched earth, Shayla noticed movement in the pile of rubble that was once the hundred-year-old home. She approached, her heart beating wildly…

Salem-Winston Journal

It was Madison! Apparently, the faithful guard dog had returned after the fire had been extinguished and was now sitting watch of his former home! But even with the dog alive and well, there was still one challenge that Shayla would have to face.

ABC News

Being that Madison was no lover of strangers, the wary dog immediately took off when Shayla approached him (some guard dog!). Shayla knew, if she wasn’t able to catch Madison, the dog would surely perish from a lack of food and water. Shayla needed a plan.

Patch

So after leaving some fresh water and a bowl of food out for Madison, Shayla returned to Andrea to share the good news and relay her difficulty in catching him. The pair was stumped over the predicament but devised the perfect method for luring the protective pup back home.

ABC News

Using an article of Andrea’s clothing, Shayla used the smell to calm Madison and draw her back to the property. And when the guard dog returned, he found his owners and brother waiting there for him!

The Independent

The tearful reunion was marked by excited licks and yelps from Madison, who was then fed a hefty bag of his favorite treat — Wheat Thins. Even in the face of catastrophe, Madison stayed loyal to his family and protected the home at all costs.

Daily Mail

Animal loyalty combined with their intuition is one of the strongest forces on Earth. And those natural instincts are exactly what is needed in a pressing situation.

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