The recent wildfires in California have been devastating, with over 30 fatalities and thousands of others displaced after losing their homes. As these communities reel from the disaster and begin recovery, we can only take solace in the good news, the tireless heroes, and the unlikely stories of survival.
That’s the case for a man named Roland Tembo Hendel, who’s property was completely destroyed in the flames—but he rediscovered hope when he found a miracle waiting for him in the rubble.
Roland owns property in Sonoma County, California, right between Santa Rosa and Calistoga. He lived with his daughter, Ariel, and had eight pet goats—who were watched over by their faithful Great Pyrenees dogs, Tessa and Odin, who trade shifts guarding the herd.
But when the Tubbs Fire hit their neighborhood last week, they were caught off guard—they didn’t know until they saw it with their own eyes.
“The fire fight hit us first before any evacuation notices,” he told KTVU. “We smelled smoke and there had been nothing on evacuations posted yet.”
“I went onto the roof and saw the sky turning orange… it was time to go,” said Roland.
Within minutes, they saw flames approaching and felt the winds growing. With little time to prepare, Roland and his daughter had to hastily evacuate. Ariel packed the dogs and cats in the car, but there was no time to pack the goats into a trailer.
All Roland could do was open the gate and hope they would flee to safety—but then he saw who was with them.
It was Odin, and he was determined to stay.
“At night, Odin won’t leave the goats,” Roland told CBC Radio. “When I approached, he sat down in front of the goats.”
“And I know that look. He wasn’t moving.”
The dog wasn’t willing to leave his post—and Roland knew he couldn’t force him.
“I didn’t have time to figure out what to do,” he told KTVU. “He was determined to stay and he’s his own being.”
He didn’t want to leave his beloved dog, but tragically he had to put his and his daughter’s safety first—and there was no time to spare.
“I doubt I could have made him come with us if I tried,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
As Roland drove from the property, he knew he made the right call.
“The cars behind us on the road had fire pouring out of the windows just minutes after we left,” he told CBC Radio.
“It was life and death.”
“By the time we were going down the road, you could hear the twisting metal of transmission towers falling and propane tanks exploding… I’ll never forget it,” Roland said.
Roland, his daughter, and a few of his pets had made it out okay—but the loss of their other animals, especially Odin, finally dawned on them.
“Hours later when we had found relative safety we cried for Odin and our goats,” Roland recalled to KTVU.
“I was sure I had sentenced them to a horrific and agonizing death.”
All they could do was hope for a slim chance of survival.
“We were hoping somehow they were OK, that some miracle happened,” he told CBC.
But when they were later able to return to their property, the sight didn’t inspire optimism.
“We were able to make it back to the smoldering wasteland of our forest,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
“Every structure is in ruins. Trees are still burning.”
They were devastated. It seemed like nothing had survived.
“Eight goats came running to see us and get cuddles and kisses.”
All the goats had survived—one had a slight burn, but they were otherwise completely unharmed.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Roland told CBC Radio. “Everything else is gone. There’s nothing.”
They lived—all thanks to their faithful protector, Odin.
Roland was thrilled to see the dog had survived after all—although his fur was burned and his whiskers were melted.
“He looked small and he was limping,” Roland said.
“He was lying down a lot. He was clearly exhausted.”
Luckily, it looks like the heroic dog is going to be okay.
“It’s amazing he’s in such good spirits. He doesn’t show signs of being traumatized at all. He’s just really happy,” Roland told CBC Radio.
“He’ll make a full recovery. He’s going to be back with his goats.”
Amazingly, Odin didn’t even just save his goats—he adopted even more animals along the way. Several baby deer came to him during the fire for protection, although they fled when Roland returned.
Roland was stunned. It was the miracle he had hoped for.
“I started sobbing and my daughter and I… it didn’t matter the house was gone and the structures,” he told KTVU.
“To find all our animals safe was all we needed.”
Other people were inspired by the story as well. When Roland posted a fundraising page, hoping to raise money to help Odin and the goats, he raised over $70,000, well past his initial goal.
For Roland, Odin was the hero everyone needed during this difficult time.
“He is our inspiration,” he wrote on Facebook.