Family of Four Loses 14-Year-Old Son While Trying to Outrun Deadly California Wildfire
Jon, Sara and their 17-year-old daughter Kressa Shepherd are all currently recovering from their injuries in different hospitals and remain sedated and unaware of the death of 14-year-old Kai Shepherd, who died about 50 feet away from them near their Mendocino County home, according to the Associated Press.
“We will have some terrible news to break,” Sara’s sister Mindi Ramos told The Los Angeles Times. “We have been advised not to volunteer the tragic information. Until they ask, we don’t tell them.”
Neighbor Paul Hanssen also spoke to the L.A. Times, saying that after he first saw the fire had spread to the neighborhood, he called Jon to warn him. “I woke Jon up and told him there was a fire and he needs to get ready to leave and that I would call him if we needed to evacuate.”
The Shepherds reportedly tried to drive themselves to safety, but their cars caught fire as they were driving down the mountain they lived on. They were forced to get out and attempt to escape on foot, according to the AP.
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Sara and Kressa were saved by Hanssen, who survived the flames by locking himself in a metal trailer along with his dog and a hose which was filled with water, reported the AP. Hours later — after the fire passed — Hanssen left his trailer and went to the Shephard’s house, where he found Sara and Kressa on the ground, badly burned.
After he called 911, Hanssen “got water for them from their water heater and squeezed it into their mouths with a towel,” Sara’s sister Mindi Ramos told the L.A. Times. “He held them when they got cold. He assured them that help was coming. Kressa told him, ‘I just want to go to the hospital now.’ ”
Hanssen also asked them if they knew where Kai and Jon were, but “they both said they didn’t know,” Hanssen told the L.A. Times.
Just before the paramedics arrived, Hanssen found Kai’s body and later, along with another neighbor, Efren Turner, they covered him with a sheet. “We paused a moment with our hands on him, speaking solemnly, and praying for him,” Hanssen added. “We didn’t feel right leaving him alone on the road up there. But the coroner/sheriff was there to get him within an hour.”
While Sara and Kressa didn’t know where Jon was, first responders found him separately, also badly burned, but alive, reported the AP.
Although Jon suffered from burns over 45 percent of his body, Ramos told the L.A. Times “there was no muscle damage” and that doctors “have 100 percent confidence in his full recovery.”
Sara and Kressa — who both suffered burns over 60 percent of their bodies — are also expected to recover. Sara suffered burn damage to her hands and legs and Kressa’s legs had to be amputated below the knee. Ramos also added that Kressa’s face was badly burned although “there was no muscle damage to her face…so there is enough structure to rebuild.”
“It will be a blessing to us if Kressa retains her eyesight and hands,” she added.
The Shepherds did not have fire insurance due to the remote location of their house — which they built and called their dream home, reported the AP — so Ramos has launched a fundraising campaign for them to help pay for rebuilding and medical costs.