Camp Fire survivor reflects on split-second 'judgment call' before narrowly escaping ember storm

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Robert Austin and his cat Sooki are getting used to life at the Oroville Nazarene Church, an evacuation center for Camp Fire victims. 

Sooki isn’t a fan of her new leash, but Austin has to use it to keep her close by after the pair evacuated from Magalia Thursday. 

“When she first got on the leash you should’ve seen the double backflips ‘what is this dad?’”

Austin said the fire came in so fast he had little time to think, “I opened the door there was embers coming on my deck and home and roof. I had to make a judgement call.”

The judgement call was to save his important belongings or save Sooki. Austin chose his cat. He got in his car and sped off as he watched the Camp Fire burn his home, “It was starting on fire when I left,” he said.

The drive to safety was terrifying, “I was following the road got to the bottom of bridge next thing you know smoke and fire surrounded my truck,” said Austin.

Austin is grateful he’s ok, but he and hundreds of others at the Oroville Nazarene Church are left wondering what’s next and that’s where Red Cross comes in.

“There’s people naturally upset and worried. Our job is to help them feel more comfortable. We can’t build them a house, but we’re here to give them a hug if they need a hug,” said Mary Atkins with Red Cross.

The shelter has food, clothes, water and even minor medical help for evacuees. Most importantly for Austin, they allow pets. 

While he wait on his insurance to come through with a rental home, he’s finding joy in the little things, like Sooki getting used to her leash, “She just walked me a little yeah I was happy,” he said