He was working in Thousand Oaks when he heard news of the Ridge Route fire, and he rushed home to Castaic to save his dog.
Chris Burkhead would not be given access to his mobile home by the time he arrived at about 3:30 p.m. on that Wednesday, Aug. 31. He went to a friend’s house to catch the news on TV, and around 4:30 p.m., he watched as the blaze overtook his home, with the knowledge that his pet, Honeybee, was inside.
“When I found it on the news, I’m watching my trailer and it wasn’t in flames,” Burkhead told The Signal in a phone interview a few weeks after the fire, which ultimately burned more than 5,200 acres. “And in five minutes that I’m watching the news, it catches on fire. I had to watch my trailer burn down with my dog inside.”
Unfortunately for Burkhead, he had no insurance on the place. He said he couldn’t afford the monthly payments, which, in 2012, he added, was over $1,000 a month. After losing everything — his home, his belongings inside, two vehicles and his dog, a friend of his set up a GoFundMe page to help. As of the publishing of this story, it had raised more than $7,600.
According to Jessica Robinson, the creator of the page, funds collected would go directly to her friend Burkhead to help him get a roof over his head and get his utilities back up and running
“Chris’s grief remains high,” Robinson said in her comments on the page after she made it, “even after a few days have passed.”
Burkhead bought the Ridge Route Road property between Lake Hughes and Templin Highway in 2012. He’d come to the Santa Clarita Valley from Morro Bay in the early 1980s when he was 9 years old after his parents split up. He’d make the SCV his home.
“I think my first job was the Santa Clarita mall,” Burkhead said. “I poured all the concrete. And then I ended up — I liked the iron workers that were working on the mall, you know, that I was working with — and I ended up going into iron working, and I became a union iron worker. And then in 2008, I had a one-ton beam fall on me, and it put me out of the trade, but it gave me enough money to buy that property in Castaic.”
Burkhead bought 4.13 acres. And he also purchased his mobile home outright. He shared the place with his Chihuahua-terrier mix, Honeybee. He got her when she was just 5 weeks old and he’d had her for over 15 years.
“I’ve been through some hard situations and she kept me alive,” Burkhead said. “There was also a time when we were living in the valley before I got this property. She got locked inside of a garage with a running generator. She was lifeless when I found her, and I resuscitated her back to life — mouth to mouth. Me and my dog, yeah, we had a connection, a big spiritual connection. I mean, she saved my life, and I’ve saved hers.”
Burkhead has no plans of getting another canine companion. He said he doesn’t even have his own stability.
“It might be a nice thought,” he added, “but it’s the last thing I want to entertain right now.”
While speaking with The Signal over his cell phone, Burkhead was on his way up to his property, looking into buying a trailer from someone nearby. Members of the community who help those in need during such emergencies offered him clothing and assistance, including temporary shelter at a nearby extended-stay hotel, but he said he only had one more night there before he had to find some other arrangement.
“I seen this little trailer for sale on Facebook market, and it’s a good deal,” he said. “So, I’m going out there right now to look at it. And I don’t know if this is just good timing or God is saying, ‘Here you go.’ I don’t know. It’s only $2,000, and it’s a pretty nice trailer.”
As Burkhead spoke with The Signal, he was commenting on the devastation caused to the area. It was bad, he said.
“I planted over 400 trees here since 2012,” he continued. “There’s probably, I don’t know, I’d say 12 of them standing now.”
And while losing a home is heartbreaking enough, he couldn’t get over not being able to save his dog.
“You know, when this all happened,” he said, “(California Highway Patrol officers) kept me from coming up here to retrieve my dog. And there was clearly, from the time I got done arguing — I must’ve argued with the guy for 15, 20 minutes, and then it took me 20 minutes to go back down to find a house to watch my dog burn and my trailer burn — I’m saying there was a good 40 minutes of time to save my dog … The CHP flat out told me, ‘We’re not saving dogs today.’”
But the CHP, which is the agency that handled road closures during the Ridge Route Fire, had a protocol they had to follow.
According to Officer Josh Greengard, a spokesman for the CHP Newhall office, human life comes first in these situations, and they can’t risk human life to save animal life.
“We understand that people treat animals as humans, and we all love animals,” Greengard told The Signal in a phone interview. “But our main focus is to preserve human life. And us sending him up there with all of the medical services that were there, all the fire guys and helicopters that were dropping water, and the planes that were dropping fire retardant — we can’t put him in danger.”
Greengard added that fires move quickly, and they can turn fast.
Burkhead said he understands the issues with allowing people into an area on fire to save pets, that there are safety reasons and reasons related to interfering with firefighters and CHP doing their jobs to save people and property, but he feels there should be some kind of group that could work alongside these agencies, that can go in and save animals.
“I think something needs to be set up for that,” he added. “I still feel sick to this day about it. I cry every time I think about it.”
To donate to Burkhead’s GoFundMe page, go to bit.ly/RidgeRoute.