Retired firefighter hangs back to save home, pets in Alpine

SAN DIEGO -- As the West Fire raged through Alpine Friday, destroying 18 buildings, damaging more and forcing residents to flee, a retired firefighter stayed behind to defend the neighborhood -- and his family's unique pets.

Ray Chaney, a Cal Fire veteran, said that wildfire preparedness and 30 years of experience kicked in when the flames started bearing down on his home.

It all started Friday when he got a call from his wife: "She said, 'Hey, there's a great big fire behind our house -- directly behind our house,' and I could tell by her voice that it was serious, so I immediately left work and came directly here."

Chaney's wife and kids gathered important belongings and a variety of critters -- the family dog, rabbit and parrot -- before hitting the road. Chaney stayed behind with the chickens and two tortoises, getting to work immediately with hoses and the home's sprinklers.

“I was prepared for this kind of event, so I got all of those out and deployed them. Got water on the fire. Got water on my house. Checked my neighbor's house and just kind of did a circuit pattern. (I) did that for about three or four hours and fortunately we survived,” Chaney said Saturday.

The house didn't suffer any serious damage, but the flames came incredibly close. On Saturday the Chaney family reunited in Alpine feeling grateful that their belongings were spared and their family stayed safe. But they're heartbroken to look across the street at the devastation suffered by neighbors who lost their homes.

Chaney shared his message to them: “Unfortunately, Mother Nature sometimes -- we cannot overcome that -- but everybody down to the last firefighter did everything they could to save your property, and we’re so sorry for your loss."

Now the community rebuilds.