Patricia Wells was broken hearted thinking her 3.5-foot pet python, Roberto, likely died in the fire that devastated most of her neighborhood in the small Butte County community of Berry Creek.
“I was sick to my stomach because I left him,” Wells said.
Wells, 46, and a friend had to quickly evacuate her home the morning of Sept. 8 as the Bear Fire came barreling into their town. The blaze is part of the North Complex of fires, which has become one of California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfires.
But the 11-year-old snake is back with its owner. The house they live in is one of two still standing on their street.
Wells credits the work of a North State animal rescue group — one that helped pet owners in November 2018 during the Camp Fire — for getting Roberto to safety.
When she learned her home had survived the fire, she called North Valley Animal Disaster Group for help on Monday.
The next day the organization’s vice president, Norm Rosene, discovered Roberto in his terrarium in Wells’ garage.
“He’s a very calm well-mannered snake,” Rosene said.
Rescue volunteers help people evacuated from wildfire areas find lost pets and livestock. They also house pets while people stay in evacuation centers or hotels.
As of Friday, the group received more than 1,000 calls from people evacuated from North Complex burn areas, Rosene said.
It’s not as busy as it was two years ago, he said. “During the Camp Fire, we had 10,000 calls in five days.”
Roberto is now staying at a family home near Sacramento. He’s stressed out and not eating but otherwise, safe, Wells said.
It’s not surprising he’s upset, Rosene said. “If you take a snake out of its territory, it kind of messes up its routine.”
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Wells only last month had moved to Berry Creek from Los Angeles and brought with the snake, her cat and dog. They moved in with Wells’ mother, Marsha Wells, and her two dogs.
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Then the North Complex of fires started burning in and around Butte and Plumas counties.
“Smoke was hovering over Lake Oroville for a couple of weeks.” Wells said. When she woke up Sept. 8, the smoke was much thicker and the power was out.
She said she heard from a friend they were “just getting smoke from a fire lingering at Bucks Lake,” she said. When the evacuation order came, she thought it was just a precaution. “I didn’t think the fire would get that close.”
Wells — who adopted Roberto three years ago when his previous owner couldn’t keep him — said she is deeply grateful to Rosene of the animal rescue group. “Roberto is the sweetest little guy. It was really neat to see that people thought of him the way I did. Now I can rest easy.”
Wells, her mother and their pets are resting comfortably at the home of Wells’ daughter and her three dogs. “Yes, we have six dogs, a cat and Roberto here,” Wells said, laughing. “And two mice — at least until Roberto starts eating again.”
Jessica Skropanic is a features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers science, arts, social issues and entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.