PARADISE, Calif. — Tracy Grant was in a parking lot handing out hamburgers to evacuees from the devastating Camp Fire in Northern California when she encountered Lee Brundige.
The 93-year-old World War II veteran had just fled his house in Paradise by driving his own car as the wildfire was approaching.
“He called me the burger girl,” Grant says. “It took us about 24 hours to convince him to follow me home.”
This was last Thursday in Oroville, about 11 miles south of the fire. Brundige told her he could sleep in his car that first night, and that’s exactly what he did, despite Grant’s protestations.
“I didn’t like leaving him there, but he’s very independent. So I made sure he had blankets and a pillow,” Grant says. “I stayed with him until about midnight.”
The following day the spread of smoke led the sheriff to evacuate the area where Brundige was parked. So Grant says she “gave him no choice but to come with me.”
Brundige was living alone in the home that his late wife designed, Grant says.
“He had no idea the fire was coming. He just happened to have his gardener there who started banging on his windows to wake him up.”
Since Friday Brundige has been living with Grant, her boyfriend Josh Fox and their two dogs, Axle and Cash, who keep him company.
The Camp Fire, bigger than the city of Atlanta, is the deadliest in state history. So far it’s killed at least 48 people and completely razed the town of Paradise.
Grant says Brundige doesn’t know whether his house is still standing. If it is, it won’t have power or any utilities, she adds.
“We are more then positive his home is gone,” Grant says. “Even if it isn’t, the town will not be livable for a while.”
Grant says she has contacted Brundige’s son and is learning more about her new boarder.
“We found he has many friends and is loved by his community,” she says. “He can stay with us as long as he would like.”