When the wildfires struck Santa Rosa on Oct. 8, many animal owners had to make the hard decision to leave their pets and livestock behind in order to save their family. This was what Katy Smith, 33, had to do as the Tubbs fire threatened her Mark West home.
“We couldn’t let the chickens out in time because it was just too much at that point. We were the last ones off the mountain,” Smith said.
The Smith family hadn't received orders to evacuate, but could tell by the size and proximity of the flames that they had moments to flee to safety, especially when they saw their neighbor's house on fire.
“We were off the mountain by 12:15 a.m.,” Smith said, “Our home is surrounded by oak trees, and it’s a miracle how it all played out.”
Smith, her husband and their four children made it out just in time. Unfortunately, they left behind the majority of their possessions, including one rooster and 10 chickens, a flock they had owned since they bought them as chicks from Petaluma's RiverTown Feed & Pet Country store.
“My kids asked me if they were going to be Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Smith said.
Smith and her family were granted re-entry on her birthday, after the area was cleared of fire. They were surprised to find that the chicken, rooster and coop survived the blaze. Even more, they saw that the camera trained on the coop had also made it through the fire. The family checked the camera, discovering it was not only operational, but had footage of the blaze stored on the card.
Enter the Smith’s family friend and Facebook group "Santa Rosa Firestorm Update" administrator, Jeff Bodean.
“Katy told me she had time-lapse photos (of the) event,” Bodean said. “I told her I could build them into a video that people would enjoy seeing on the firestorm page.”
Bodean had his work cut out for him, having to go through the 16 gigabytes worth of footage on the card captured from October 8-13 after rendering all the frames.
“The camera was set to take one frame,” Bodean said. “It picked up heat and motion, which is why it jumps around, time-wise.”
The end result of Bodean’s work is a thrilling three-minute time-lapse video showing the encroaching Tubbs fire narrowly miss the chickens and the coop.
The possible reason why the coop was spared?
"One lady speculated, I think accurately, that the first ember that lit up by the camera created a fire break that stopped the main firestorm from reaching the coop," Bodean said.
Though the fire spared the Smith’s chickens, predators claimed the lives of two following the fires. However, a month later, the chickens are finally back to a regular schedule of laying eggs.
“They were laying weird-looking eggs for a bit after the fires,” Smith said. “They were stressed out. The eggs were tiny, oblong-looking things.”
Despite the fact that the house and the chickens were spared, the video is a tough one for Smith. “It’s still hard for me to watch,” Smith said.
Here is the full video: