Jeff Hill and his family had already raced to evacuate their Paradise, California, home from the horrific Camp Fire. They got out last Thursday with not much more than the clothes on their backs.
But a friend of Hill's didn't know if his dad had made it out safely, so Hill offered to help. Hill and Geoff Sheldon set out last weekend, heading back to the area, looking for Sheldon's father. In between Paradise and Magalia, they saw a mule utterly out of place in a neighborhood, looking incredibly distraught.
"She was pacing back and forth, and we thought that was kind of weird," Hill tells MNN. "Especially when [animals] are freaking out and nervous and scared, they get spooked and run off."
Hill and Sheldon investigated and saw that the mule had a friend — and that other mule had fallen into a swimming pool. She was shivering uncontrollably and somehow had become tangled up in the pool cover, which is what was saving her from drowning.
As the men began removing the pool cover, the mule started to sink underwater.
"She was just so tired," Hill says. "She had no more energy left."
But they managed to float her to the shallow end using the pool cover. Using a chain — the only thing he had handy — Hill coaxed the exhausted animal out of the water to safety.
"We pulled her up the stairs and she shook off," he says. "She kind of came over to us and let us love on her a little bit. I took it as a thank you."
The two mules began to walk off into the woods, but the rescued, wet mule turned around once more.
Hill says, "I took it as a goodbye and it's going to be OK."
'Everybody's coming together'
Hill doesn't know for sure that the mules are safe, but he's hopeful.
"Rumor has it that someone saw them about five miles away in town and if it was there, somebody picked them up, for sure," he says. "There are rescue people everywhere, helping everyone."
The fire had already gone through the area, so the animals at least didn't have to worry about that. And fortunately, the men found that Sheldon's father had gotten out of his home safely.
Soon after, Hill found out his house had been destroyed. He and his extended family lost all of their belongings, but everyone (and their animals) are safe, located in various places across Northern California while they figure out what to do next.
"A lot of people have come together and given us clothes and stuff like that. We’re really grateful," says Hill. As more people heard about his mule-rescue heroics on Facebook and in the news, they urged him to start a GoFundMe to help his family recover from the fire. "It's amazing. Everybody’s coming together to help each other out."