Redwood Valley Man Dug A Hole To Survive

The following is Richard Bednar’s fire story, as told by his daughter Linda Miltimore.

When getting ready for bed around 11:30pm Sunday night, October 8, 2017, my 87-year-old dad heard loud noises from outside, 60-65 mph winds. He looked out his bedroom window. He saw dots on the hill behind his house and thought there was a fire.

His glaucoma has left him with pin hole vision. He got dressed, put his favorite pictures in a bag, including a picture of my mom (she died in 1985.) He placed the bag on the dining room table as he headed to the back deck, where he hosed down the house in the backyard.

He then went back into the house thinking the fire department would come to evacuate him. He thought he could escape out the front of the house since he saw the fire on the hill behind his home of 41 years. His right hand was burned as he grabbed the door knob.

Suddenly the fire was already burning the house. He ran toward the back sliding door, feeling the red hot floor through his shoes, breathing intense hot air and smoke as he hurried through the house. He said he was overcome by the smoke and fell down near the family room.

He said to himself, “I’m not going to die here.” He got up and escaped out the back of the house, went down the embankment 50 feet and kept sliding until he reached the creek bed. He knew he had to protect himself from the heat of the burning house, so he dug through the embers of the already burned bank burning his hands more until he reached cool ground and kept digging until he made a hole big enough to curl up in.

He spent the rest of the night in that hole, listening to not only his house burn to the ground but also nonstop explosions of propane tanks, cars and homes blowing up on his street on Tomki Road and the nearby neighborhood Fisher Lake Drive. He thought he was in a war zone. He is a Korean War veteran. He thought “Oh Mom, there goes your house!”

When it was daylight he thought the fire had passed and began to climb back up the bank toward the house. The ground was still hot but he kept climbing up, sliding back down, climbing up then sliding down until after a long time, he finally reached the top.

He was disoriented and exhausted and didn’t know which way to go. He found a fence line that hadn’t burned and followed it back and forth until he got his bearings. He found a loose fence board and used it as a guide and swept away hot embers from his path so as not to catch his pants on fire.

He finally reached the driveway and began walking up toward the road when he saw a car and started yelling and waving his stick. It was the sheriff. The sheriff stopped, helped Dad into his car and said “Let’s get the Hell out of here!”

When he reached School Road and Highway 101, there was a line of ambulances waiting to take survivors to Ukiah Valley Medical Center ER. He was loaded into an ambulance and arrived at the emergency room at about 10:30am.

He was able to identify himself and give a few details of his harrowing experience, including his daughter Linda’s name and phone number, who lives in Cloverdale and was trying to call hospitals evacuation centers frantically trying to find him.

He went into respiratory distress and had to be sedated and had a breathing tube inserted into a singed airway; because his airways, face and hands were burned he was flown by helicopter to a burn unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Miraculously, he only had first- and second-degree burns, and the breathing tube was removed in five days.

(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)

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