REDDING — Steve Bustillos was at home in Redding on July 26 when the Carr Fire turned his way in a literal tornado of flames and heat.
“All I could see was the heat waves. You know, a couple 100 feet tall and there was no fire yet there,” Bustillos said. “I thought, ‘That’s kinda weird.’ Then the next thing I know just full on ignition.”
The retired police officer packed up what he could, including birth certificates and baby pictures. He helped some neighbors and called his wife, Carrie, who was already well away from the thick smoke and flames.
“He said, ‘Babe, I’ve got everything we need loaded into our truck,'” Carrie Bustillos recalled.
“The next thing I know the window is being broke open,” Steve Bustillos said. “There’s like embers and ash blowing inside the cab of the pickup truck and I look in the back of the truck and all I could see is everything back there was on fire already.”
“And then I heard him say, ‘Oh,’ and a few explicit words. He said it twice and I knew that meant really danger,” Carrie Bustillos said.
That’s when her husband says he dropped his phone.
“I never wanted to think he was anything but OK but the realistic side of me … I was devastated,” Carrie Bustillos said. “I knew the phone was destroyed. I just had to hope that he was safe.”
As Carrie was praying for her husband, Steve was in the fight of his life up against the monstrous fire tornado.
“The truck is moving and I’ve got both feet planted on the brake pedal and the truck is literally starting to lift up off the ground,” Steve Bustillos said.
That’s when Steve took an educated gamble, jumping out of his burning truck and into the wildfire itself. He took cover under an abandoned bulldozer.
“I moved in between the blade and the tracks in the back and I pulled the bags up around me and started bringing some loose dirt up towards me,” he recalled. “And I kind of just waited it out there until it all stopped.”
He was finally picked up by a passing Cal Fire truck. When he arrived at the hospital, he refused to let doctors sedate him.
“I says, ‘I gotta make a phone call before you do that,'” Steve Bustillos remembered saying to a doctor. “He goes, ‘No, no, we gotta knock you out now.’ I go, ‘You don’t understand. I need a phone.'”
“I picked it up and then I heard my husband’s voice saying, ‘I’m OK,” Carrie Bustillos said. “It was like 500 pounds fell off my shoulders. It was something that you almost gasp for air at that point.”
From their home, which is still standing, they have a clear view of so much that was lost in the Carr Fire. But they also still have each other.