In groups, the task force members, including Lemieux, walked slowly and methodically through ruined neighborhoods, searching from one end to the other for survivors or remains, over collapsed structures, caved roofs and sharp debris. Other hazards included downed power lines and burned, overhanging tree branches. The soil had weakened in spots, and searchers moved cautiously to avoid falling in unseen septic tanks. The fire was still raging in areas, and the smoke was bad. But even worse, many buildings had asbestos and chemical products that had burned, potentially exposing team members to toxins. Lemieux and team members wore head-to-toe protective equipment, including face masks.
“Sadly, the real service we were doing is searching, not rescuing,” Lemieux said.
Lemieux treated mostly foot injuries caused by the dangerous terrain. One of the first injuries came the night of Nov. 18 — to George, a highly-trained Malinois search dog. “These dogs are incredibly stoic,” Lemieux said.
Back at the base of operations, two team members held George, more to reassure than restrain him, as Lemieux stitched his leg. “When I finished, George jumped up and licked the hell out of my face,” Lemieux said. “He seemed to know my job was to help him.”
Lemieux and the team were onsite in Magalia for more than a week, spending Thanksgiving in tents away from family and friends.
Caring for injured animals
After seeing the reports of animals injured in last year’s fires in Northern California’s wine country, Ofelia Satterfield and Candice Alfaro decided they wanted to be able to help in a future disaster.
The two veterinary technicians in the Department of Comparative Medicine got the necessary training earlier this year and became part of a volunteer corps that could help during emergency situations. When the call for assistance went out during the Camp Fire, each of the women spent a daylong shift caring for the cats, dogs, birds and other small animals who were brought to a hangar at the Chico airport.