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Thanks to hardworking firefighters and tamer winds, the devastating fires that have been ravaging parts of Northern California since October 8 finally appear to be under control. While some of the 100,000 evacuees are now being allowed back home, with 217,000 acres burned and more than 5,700 structures destroyed, many are returning to charred remains.
Among them is Roland Hendel and his family. The Sonoma County residents were among the first forced to flee their homes with just a few minutes warning at 11:00 pm the night the fires began. While Hendel managed to put most of his pets into the car, one of his dogs, Odin, who protects the family’s eight bottle-fed rescue goats from coyotes and mountain lions at night, refused to leave his wards. With the fire descending upon the house at an unprecedented speed, there was no time to load the goats, leaving Hendel with no option but to take off without his precious 1.5-year-old dog.
When Hendel was finally allowed to return to his incinerated house on October 15, he saw a miraculous sight he had not dared to hope for: “a burned, battered, and weakened Odin surrounded by his eight goats.” The smart dog had not only managed to save the goats, but also some baby deer, by guiding them to a clearing that was protected from the flames by high rocks. Though delighted to see his owner, Odin really perked up at the sight of his sister Tessa, who had evacuated with Hendel. Odin and his goats are currently recovering from the ordeal at the Sonoma Fairgrounds where the special dog is being treated as a hero. While Hendel was unable to take the deer, he did leave them with two weeks of food and water.
Not surprisingly, the story of the dog’s bravery has spread almost as fast on social media, as the wildfire that destroyed his home, helping raise more than $65,000 for the pooch and his family. Hendel plans to use the funds to pay for Odin’s medical care, repair a pumphouse that provides fresh water, and build a barn to keep the goats safe during winter. Since the funds that keep pouring in far surpass his original needs, he has decided to use the additional money towards a trailer for Odin and his goats, in case of future emergencies, and donate the rest to the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue Center. Despite losing his home, the Sonoma County resident says, “We feel really blessed. All those other things can be replaced, or you realize they’re not necessary.”
This is not the only heartwarming story to emerge from the disaster. Santa Rosa-based Weaver family were also forced to leave behind their Bernese Mountain Dog, who ran away just as they were fleeing the fast approaching flames. When they returned to examine the burnt remains of what used to be their home on October 16, Weaver, and his son-in-law, Patrick Widen, began clapping and whistling to see if the nine-year-old Izzy had survived. To their astonishment and delight, the two-time cancer survivor, who was covered in ashes and smelled like soot, came running out to greet them with her tail wagging.
We hope that as residents gradually return home, many such reunion stories will emerge. Our thoughts are with California as residents start to rebuild their homes and their lives, and we hope the fires will soon be fully extinguished.