As three devastating fires continue to rage through California, at least 56 people (so far) have died, hundreds of thousands displaced, and thousands of homes and other buildings destroyed. Burning more than 125,000 acres (and counting), the Camp Fire burning in the northern part of the state has become the deadliest and most destructive in history.
“We lost everything,” Jeff Hill of Paradise, CA told IFLScience in an interview.
After seeing his hometown of 30,000 residents completely destroyed by the fire, Hill said he came across a glimmer of hope in spite of all the loss: a horse that had managed to survive the fire by hiding out in a backyard pool.
“We saw a mule pacing back and forth and I’m like, that’s not natural. Usually, when an animal sees somebody they don’t know they will get spooked and run away.”
Hill and his friend went to check on the mule and found "its friend stuck in the pool."
“We saw her sitting down there and she was shivering to death,” he said. “She wasn’t moving, she didn’t flinch. You could tell she had just given up and had accepted she was going to die in that pool.”
The duo grabbed hold of the pool cover the horse was stuck in and pulled it to the shallow end until the horse could stand. When she was up on her feet, Hill was able to put a chain around her neck and guide her up the stairs.
“After that, she came over and let us love on her as a thank you. After a minute, she turned around and looked at us. I felt like she was reassuring us that she was going to be alright.”
It’s not clear whether the horse fell into the pool or intentionally hid in it for protection. Regardless, its survival is welcome news in the face of such devastation.
“When you lose something you go to mom’s house. If you can’t go to mom’s house then you go to grandma or grandpa’s house. In this situation, that’s not the case,” explained Hill to IFLScience. “There is no safe haven. There is no place to go. This is everybody– my mom and grandpa, all my extended family, my friends, everybody I know – we’ve all lost everything."
Even so, Hill says it's inspiring to see his community banding together.
“I have two little kids and I put on my Facebook that we need some clothes and now we’ve got more clothes than we’ve ever had in our lives,” he said. “We’re really proud that everybody is helping everybody out. It’s a really amazing thing.”
Thanks to the kindness of strangers, like many people, Hill has set up a GoFundMe site. Other organizations with established foundations include the American Red Cross, the International Association of Fire Fighters, California Community Foundation, and CAL Fire.