Early in the morning of November 8th, 2018, a fire broke out near the power transmitters at Poe Dam in Butte County, California. A field worker took the first photos of the flames at 6:44 am. By 8 am, the wildfire had reached the small town of Paradise, about 15 miles away. Winds kicked up to 50 miles per hour and the fire spread at a breakneck pace. The loss of cell towers and the speed of the blaze meant that people had to assess the situation on their own, drop everything, and evacuate.
The Camp Fire, as it would later be named, went on to become the most damaging and deadly wildfire in the history of the state. 85 civilian lives were lost; nearly 20,000 structures were destroyed or severely damaged.
When a wildfire spreads with such ferocity, things that feel vital to your life and livelihood are left behind — passports, paperwork, keepsakes… even pets. In Paradise, the inability to evacuate animals was compounded by the fact that by 8 am, most people had already gone to work. They couldn’t get back home to save their dogs or cats, even if they’d dared risk it. It was the perfect storm of random circumstance colliding with nature’s fury, leading to tragedy on an unprecedented scale. By November 20th, the blaze had consumed 153,336 acres of land and cost $16.5 billion in damage. Thousands of pets had been left behind.
“During the Camp Fire, we had seven different shelters,” John Maretti, Executive Director of the North Valley Animal Disaster Group says.
Maretti and the animal rescuers of NVADG had to wait for firefighters to give them an “okay” to go into Paradise and surrounding areas to rescue pets. The NVADG ended up “rescuing 3,000 pets and sheltering 6,000” in the wake of the fire, according to the group’s records.