The Camp Fire in Butte County, California, is continuing to cause destruction and turmoil in the northern part of the state.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection released a statement early on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, deeming the Camp Fire as both the most deadly and the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history and announcing that it is only 35 percent contained.
But as we have come to find in past instances of a tragedy like this, stories of hope, love and heroism shine through even more, despite the circumstances.
Stories like a California garbageman who continued to finish his route, despite his supervisor’s wishes, just so he could check on the elderly residents along his route. What he didn’t know is exactly who would be getting into his truck.
Dane Ray Cummings was driving his normal Thursday route on Nov. 8, 2018, when his supervisor alerted him that the Camp Fire was rapidly spreading and suggested that he evacuate.
Cummings, however, continued working so that he could check on the elderly residents along his route.
He told WBAL TV, “I been on that route eight years, and I just picked the people that I knew were older, and I tried to stop and help them and let them know that they were coming and make sure they were getting out.”
He said that he checked on about 45 to 50 people before pulling up to Ms. Margaret Newsum’s house.
Ms. Newsum, 93, started her Thursday morning just like any other: She made oatmeal and turned on the news. She heard about the quickly approaching fire and become anxious about how she was going to get to safety.
She decided to go outside on her front porch in hopes that some good Samaritan would arrive and have some space for her in their vehicle. Only moments later, Ms. Newsum saw Cummings pull up in his green dump truck.
“I went out and was standing on the front porch when this great, big, green monster drove up, and my dear friend was emptying the garbage,” she recalled. “And he said, ‘You’re not staying here. You’ve got to get out of here. Why are you still here?’”
Cummings soon learned that Ms. Newsum had no family nearby and no means to evacuate. He decided that, despite company protocol, he would lift her into his truck and drive down the hill to ensure her safety.
The unlikely pair spent the next five hours getting to know each other a little more while joining the drove of panicked people fleeing from the fire.
“He learned my history from the time I was born until today,” Ms. Newsum said.
She talked about beating cancer three different times and flying into an 18-wheeler while hang gliding when she was 70 years old. She shared how she sang back up for singers like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. She even talked about how she was an eyewitness to the Pearl Harbor attack.
“I was to be married, and my future husband was in the Marine Corps,” she said. “All I remember is the first bomb that hit one of the ships, and the apartment that he rented for me was right at the bay. And I went out to see what it was, and this Japanese plane came over. He was so low that I could see the pilot.”
Cummings couldn’t believe that the sweet woman who he had seen each week and sometimes offered him homemade cookies had lived such an amazing life.
“I wish I’d known her when she was younger. I would’ve married her, you know what I mean?” he joked. “It was the best conversation I’ve had in a truck ever.”
Thankfully Ms. Newsum’s home was left untouched by the fire, but because of the acts of an unlikely hero, both Cummings and Ms. Newsum were able to forge an incredible friendship.