Puppy Orphan Found and Rescued from Fire Ashes by Loving First Responder

Rescue Ranch recently spoke to Kevin Mancebo, the 25-year veteran Cal Fire firefighter who rescued Ash, the white Lava Fire puppy we’ve been posting all over social media. So many of you have been asking for his story, I  am happy to be able to bring it to you in this post.

Puppy found by firefighter in the burn zone

Kevin found Ash early on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, after the Lava Fire had blazed through Juniper Valley. He was Strike Team Leader for the area that day, assigned to supervise the work of several bulldozers in the construction of a fire line.

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He says he had driven past a deceased dog a few times during the night, but as the day broke, there in the twilight, he spotted some movement under the dog’s legs. The puppy had sought refuge with his mother and snuggled up to her nipple. His two littermates and a young German Shepherd were nearby, but they had succumbed to the superheated environment.

The firefighter grabbed up the pup and climbed back into the truck. He tucked the small white body inside his fire-retardant Nomex shirt. The little dog was anxious and coughing, showing signs of the respiratory distress later noted by Rescue Ranch staff.

Kevin then contacted his line supervisor at about 4:45 a.m., to request County Animal Control, but they wouldn’t be available before 6:30 a.m. Eventually, he was able to set up an appointment with the officers for 7:30 a.m., at the junction of Juniper Valley Road and A12.

Lava Fire Puppy spends the night inside firefighter’s jacket until Animal Control officer arrives

Kevin was still on duty, but, obviously, there was no leaving the puppy behind. Ash was definitely along for the ride! By then, he had settled inside his rescuer’s jacket, nestled against his chest.

Kevin poured water into the hollow part of a travel mug lid and Ash just lapped it up.  The puppy was so dehydrated, Kevin had to be careful not to let him drink too much water at once. Nevertheless, the little dog was soon on his way to rehydration. He never left Kevin, he just stayed inside his jacket or on his lap the whole time.

When they were able to rendezvous, Kevin handed Ash off to Animal Control officers. He had to trust that his tiny charge would be well cared for at Rescue Ranch. He knew that we would do our best, and was familiar with our work through his fiancée, Heather Mason, a wonderful vet tech who has helped Rescue Ranch out over the years.

Ash the Lava Fire puppy safely delivered into the care of Rescue Ranch

“ I just feel fortunate that I was able to find Ash before he had to try and survive the full next day alone,” says Kevin. He then added words to the effect that he wanted to share Ash’s story because it was a way to find some joy in the middle of heartbreak.

CLICK HERE to donate
to the Wildfire Relief Fund!
We’re all tremendously grateful for the courageous, often heartbreaking, work of our firefighters and other first responders. We can always count on them to step up and help in dangerous emergency situations. We, can’t thank them enough for what they do to keep us all safe.

Rescue Ranch staff named the puppy “Ash” when he arrived. They gave him subcutaneous fluids, food, and loving care. When staff noticed he was struggling to breathe, they took to the vet who prescribed medication to help his lungs. He was also treated for burns on his paws. Ash is now in foster care with volunteer extraordinaire AliCarmen Carico. She did not miss a beat during the Lava Fire, even though she herself was evacuated. Our volunteers really are the best!

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Natalie Golay