As flames enveloped their Santa Rosa, Calif. home on Oct. 9, the Weavers had seconds to leave. In the midst of their flight, their beloved 9-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Izzy, ran away from them.
“My mom couldn’t chase after her without risking her own life,” their daughter, Beckyjean Widen, wrote on Facebook. To get to safety, she said, the couple “had to drive through walls of flames and across a burning wooden bridge.”
The day after evacuating, as fires continued to burn across California wine country, the Weavers — like thousands of other displaced families — wondered what had become of their home. They were convinced they had lost everything.
But they were most devastated with the thought of losing Izzy, Widen said.
So their son, Jack Weaver, and son-in-law, Patrick Widen, decided to make the three-mile trek to the property to find out exactly what was left of the home. More importantly, they needed to find out if Izzy had by “some miracle” survived, Beckyjean Widen, Widen’s wife, wrote on Facebook.
“They were turned away by police officers, but if you know my brother Jack or husband Patrick . . . neither one likes to be told no,” Beckyjean Widen wrote. Weaver decided to capture what he saw on video, to show his parents.
In the video, the two are heard panting and out of breath as they hike up the last hill before reaching the property.
“I can see the vineyards,” Weaver says in the video, which was shared on Facebook and has now been viewed more than 1.7 million times. His voice sounds exhausted as he nears the home. “The anticipation is killing me,” he says.
As they got closer, Jack Weaver notices the gate is still standing.
But, he says, “I don’t see the house. I had my hopes up.”
He sees the remains of a wall. Aside from that? “Nothing. It’s gone.”
“There’s so much smoke I can’t show you the view,” he says.
The two men begin clapping and whistling, calling out for Izzy, wondering if maybe, at least, Izzy had made it.
They see that some parts of the property have been spared — the vineyards, a tractor.
Then, suddenly, there’s movement up ahead.
“Izzy is here!” Weaver shouts excitedly. “Izzy, Izzy, come here baby, Izzy!”
The Bernese Mountain Dog is seen walking toward them, wagging her tail.
In the background, Patrick Widen’s voice is heard wavering, cracking, overcome with emotion.
“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god,” he cries out.
Izzy was covered in ashes, and smelled like soot, they later told NBC News. But otherwise the dog was fine. A veterinarian said she was likely insulated from the heat of the blaze by her thick fur coat, the Associated Press reported. She was panting, and visibly stressed, but Izzy did not panic, Weaver said.
“She was very happy to see us,” Weaver told the AP. “She’s such a brave dog.”
After all, Izzy is a two-time cancer survivor, the family told NBC News.
Eventually, Weaver was able to get through on a cellphone to tell his mother. She was staying with relatives in the San Francisco Bay area at the time.
“She just lost it,” Weaver told the AP. “She went from being devastated about losing her home to the being the happiest person I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t get home fast enough. She was really, really happy . . . She’s still shaken up by the whole thing, but she’s in much better spirits now that Izzy is at our house.”
Across the fire-ravaged region, where 40 people have been confirmed dead in four counties, reunions like this bring hope amid despair.
Statewide, an estimated 5,700 structures have been destroyed and nearly 100,000 people have been displaced, according to officials. In the Weavers’ town of Santa Rosa, the county seat and gateway to the wine tourism industry, the fires have destroyed nearly 3,000 homes and caused $1.2 billion in damage.
At Sonoma County Animal Services, veterinarians and assistants are providing care for 64 cats and 44 dogs, almost all of them brought in from areas affected by fires, the AP reported.
On Facebook, the shelter has been posting videos and pictures of the animals they take in, hoping to get the word out to their owners.
Sometimes it works. Ed Ratliff, a Santa Rosa resident, was reunited with his cat, Milo, on Thursday. An officer found the cat crouching under a Honda Civic and took him to the shelter, KTVU reported.
Ohndrea Elliot began looking for Kitty, her 10-year-old calico cat, the day after she evacuated her home and Kitty had run across the street. She lost her home and all of her belongings in the fire.
“I felt horrible,” Elliot, 23, told KTVU. “It broke my heart. We had everyone else safe except Kitty. And she was the last thing I saw as we were leaving. She was running for her life.”
Elliot contacted the Sonoma Humane Society, and the shelter sent her a photo of the cat, which had burned its paws and fur.
“I broke down really hard,” Elliot said. “I couldn’t breathe.”
As for the Weavers, Jack Weaver told NBC News his mom had “gone through a lot.”
“The goal was to try to put her mind at ease one way or the other,” he said. “We didn’t believe [Izzy] would’ve survived.”
“We didn’t expect to see her, and she came bounding out,” he recounted to Good Morning America. “It was elation, tears, happiness, one of the greatest moments of my life.”
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