Jeff Hill has lost everything he’s ever owned.
But even as flames destroyed his childhood home — the very property where he has raised his own family — the resident of the fire-ravaged community of Paradise, Calif. took a moment on Sunday to save a mule that was neck deep in a pool and shivering, a “look of defeat in her eyes.”
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Hill, a father of two boys and a baby expected in two months, returned to the community last weekend, days after flames ignited there, eventually claiming 48 lives and destroying thousands of homes.
Hill had returned with friend Geoff Sheldon to check on a 76-year-old father, who insisted on staying home and fighting the fire.
On the way to the house, they spotted a mule pacing back and forth on a property down the road from his home.
“These things shouldn’t be so skittish, there must be something wrong,” Hill remembered thinking.
Moving closer, he and his friend saw that the mule wasn’t alone.
There was another nearby, trapped by a pool cover in as much as 10 feet of water and unable to free herself.
A horse trapped in a pool in Paradise, Calif. on Nov. 11, 2018.
The mule was “damn near dead” and had “just given up,” Hill said.
“She wasn’t fighting or anything,” he said.
“She was just kind of laying there, shivering.”
Hill guessed from the mule’s state that she had been in the pool for days.
The way she looked, she could have stepped into the pool and mistaken its cover for solid ground, he said.
“You could tell in her eyes that she had accepted that she was going to die in that pool,” Hill said.
They tried to cut the pool cover off of the mule before she went underwater, showing none of the strength or energy she needed to pull herself up again.
Hill and his friend pulled the horse to the pool’s shallow end, then stood her up again.
They wrapped a chain around the horse and guided her up the pool’s stairs, finally bringing her on to dry land again.
Hill and his friend were standing shoulder to shoulder when the horse came over and put her head in between them, as if to show affection for the men who saved her.
Then the horse walked away, turning back just before she left her rescuers for good.
“I took it as she was saying ‘thank you,’ as a kind of, ‘I’m going to be OK,’” Hill said.
The mules that Hill encountered have since been spotted roaming in Paradise by people who’ve worked to rescue animals from the burned-out community.
He’s sure they’ll be saved, too.
“I am confident, if they have not been already, that they will be, especially with them sticking together,” he said.
A horse is freed from a pool in Paradise, Calif. after wildfires ravaged the community on Nov. 11, 2018.
In the meantime, Hill’s family has been located all over Northern California as they try to figure out what to do next.
Hill’s two boys are with their mother, while he and his pregnant girlfriend have rented a trailer and are currently stationed in Chico, just over an hour’s drive from Paradise.
Tuesday was the first day that he had a chance to speak with insurance companies.
He has set up a GoFundMe campaign seeking financial help as his family — and his community — work to figure out a new “normal.”
“We lost everything, we lost half of our hospital, schools stores, churches,” he said.
“I honestly am skeptical if Paradise will be able to bounce back from this.”
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