Fire truly is a beautiful element, there’s no denying that, but it’s also one of the most destructive forces on the planet. Once it decides its path of consumption, there’s no stopping the terror that’s soon to follow. In November of 2018, California felt the wrath of Mother Nature through a series of wildfires that consumed two million acres of land, taking numerous lives with it.
The California fires destroyed the lives of many families, either by destroying their homes or by taking someone they love. Even though the horror stories are immeasurable, there are also plenty of inspirational stories of strength, hope, community, and love.
The flames were heading in their direction and the smoke was making it difficult to see.“Max? Max!” It didn’t matter how many times she called out, there was no response. With fear in their eyes, the girls began to cry. She couldn’t postpone—he was in danger and something needed to be done, but they never expected this.
Michel Yeager always made sure her kids were taken care of. If she was struggling to buy food, she was the one who went without. To make sure they had money for a school trip she went without central heating while they were away. Their needs were always put before her own, but that didn’t mean everyone in their lives put them first.
Michel didn’t exactly hate her daughter’s father, but after spending so much time living together, they realized that they shouldn’t be together. They did agree on one thing: they both loved their daughters more than anything, which is what made them decide to co-parent. They didn’t want to ruin their children’s childhood, but there were some parts of life that Michel couldn’t shelter them from.
The girls understood that they were different because they split time between their mom’s house and their dad’s house. There’s no denying that kids can be cruel. The girls were mocked and the eldest was taunted, but Michel did what she could to raise her spirits. She didn’t have many friends, so Michel wanted her to know she always had one at home.
The girls were in for a surprise. If the eldest daughter couldn’t have friends at school, Michel wanted to ensure she at least had one at home. Michel’s surprise was an adorable white and black husky. The girls immediately fell in love with the pup, but Michel never thought their friendship would turn into something so powerful.
Max and the girls were immediately inseparable. He quickly turned into their baby brother. He became a constant shadow to the girls, following them around the garden and in the house. In the evenings, Max would lay next to the baby. He may have been the youngest, but Max was their protector. Meanwhile, the eldest began to get comfortable in school. It seemed like nothing could go wrong, but that was when something unthinkable happened.
Those of you with furry companions understand the bond that a person has with their animal. It’s unconditional, pure, and real. Michel was grateful for being able to give that to her girls, but it began to look like things were going to change.
A fire began to make its way across Northern California at the beginning of November. It wasn’t long after the announcement that the surrounding areas of Butte County were being evacuated. Michel quickly got to work. Would she be able to make it to her children? No one expected this fire to be the deadliest that California had ever seen.
Max was nowhere to be found, and he wasn’t in his normal spot in the garden. Every time he heard their car pulling up Max would hide underneath the porch. It was as if he was playing hide-and-seek. Michel began to assume the worst. Her oldest daughter began to scream Max’s name from the car. That was when she was hit in the cheek with something.
There was ash falling down from the sky. The announcer on the radio was urging residents to leave as soon as possible. She looked up to see the orange haze on the horizon. Her heart began to ache. There was no way Max could be left behind, but she couldn’t risk the safety of her children. Michel needed to make up her mind, but time was running out.
Michel had to choose between trying to find Max, or following the announcer’s advice and getting her girls out of there immediately. Any parent would make the same decision that Michel was about to make, no matter how hard it was going to be.
“I saw the fire ash falling from the sky and I knew I had to get my girls out. We were only able to stay for less than five minutes,” explained Michel. There was no question; Michel’s girls would come first. Her heart broke as she drove away, not knowing if Max would be okay. Regardless, Michel never expected what would happen next.
The day crept by as Michel thought about her home. It would be confirmed later that day that the fire completely destroyed her home. Michel couldn’t help but cry. It took years to build her home. Where were they going to go? Would they have someplace to sleep? But one question kept popping up in her mind —had anyone seen Max? She needed answers, so she shared pictures of Max online. Michel never imagined getting this reaction though.
Michel began to search the internet for information about pets that were found, but she also learned how destructive the fire actually was. There were thousands of buildings that were destroyed, which put an unimaginable number of people in harm’s way. It’s a sad fact that some of those people didn’t survive. And Michel couldn’t help but think that Max had perished in the fire, as well. Suddenly, Michel’s phone began to flash.
A notification was waiting on Michel’s phone. She was tagged in a video by one of her friends on Facebook. There was a dog covered in soot in the video. Max’s black and white coat was long and thick. The canine’s hair was stained yellow and short. Michel began to scroll through some of the comments. After a moment, she started to cry.
“They found a dog named Max by Stratton’s Market on Sawmill. We live about a few houses down, so we called up the news person [and] asked how he knew his name and everything, and he described his collar,” Michel explained later. Michel left the girls behind and journeyed to the facility. She didn’t want to disappoint the girls if this dog wasn’t their Max.
As soon as Michel entered the vet clinic, she was given a collar with a blue strap, brass name tag, and black buckle. She instantly started crying. “He’s mine,” Michel whispered to the nurse. She was directed down a hallway and she began to get nervous. Was Max injured or frightened? How could she forgive herself if he was hurt? The door opened and Michel froze in place.
There was a weak animal in front of Michel. Clumps of hair were burnt off of his body and his legs were shaking. There were red marks and tiny cuts all over his face. How could this frail dog be Max? But when Max showed his face, Michel immediately recognized his eyes. They were still so kind. Max ran to her and propped himself up on his back legs. He was in pain, but he needed his mom. But how would he react when he got to see the girls?
Michel brought the girls to the vet clinic the following day. “It was amazing and sad with a lot of emotions from my girls and me,” Michel began to explain. “He’s the same dog but he looks so different now. My youngest daughter is just so in love with him. At first, she was scared, but after a few minutes she knew it was him,” she continued. Despite the happy reunion, Max still had a long way to go before he looked and felt like his old self again.
Max may have a long journey ahead of him, but he’s making great progress. His hair is beginning to grow back and his burns are finally starting to heal. Luckily, Max has a loving family who gives him plenty of treats to make the days go by. “He is doing better. They say he will make a full recovery, it’s just going to take some time,” said Michel. Her girls were more than happy to have their best friend and protector back. Unfortunately, there were many people who weren’t so lucky.
A lot of people lost their homes in the Califonia fires, but there were many people who lost their lives. Local emergency services did an unbelievable job at getting people safely out of the fire’s way. Even though she lost her house, Michel calls herself lucky. Many families lost more than their home; they lost an irreplaceable person in their lives. But the question stands: will Max be able to return to his old self despite his situation?
The 2018 California wildfires caused an inconceivable amount of damage, that much is certain. Luckily, Max and his family were able to make it out okay, despite their losses. We’re glad you’re okay Max. You’re a strong boy! He probably deserves a treat…or three.