BOULDER CREEK, Calif. (KRON) — A peacock’s plight and story of survival during the CZU August Lightning Complex fires has become Boulder Creek’s own unique phoenix rising from the ashes.
A wild white peacock, named “Albert,” has lived in the town for years. Locals are used to seeing him strutting along Highway 9 and he serves as a morning alarm clock for firefighters who live near the fire station.
Lightning strikes ignited the CZU fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains on August 16. Flames spread through the forest toward the town of Boulder Creek. As thousands of residents were evacuating down Highway 9, some snapped photos of Albert in a perilous situation. He was running through thick smoke.
One Boulder Creek resident who has pet peacocks tried to rescue Albert. But the bird’s beautiful tail feathers were too long to fit in Steven Foster’s truck. So Albert had to stay behind. Foster left food and water out in a spot that he knew the peacock liked, and he hoped for the best.
This week, Boulder Creek remains as one of the last towns still under evacuation orders. A road block prevents residents from seeing what their town and homes look like. Hundreds of families do not have a house to return home to. According to CalFire officials, nearly 1,000 homes were destroyed by the CZU fires. About 35,000 residents remain evacuated.
Amidst the anxieties and sorrows residents are feeling, one small sign of hope arose from the ashes. Albert and his gleaming white feathers are unsinged. He was seen strolling near a yoga studio on Monday afternoon and appeared to be OK.
“The fire department received a lot of phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages asking about Albert’s whereabouts and how he was doing,” Boulder Creek Fire Chief Mark Bingham said. “He’s doing well. He looks like someone took him to a spa. Animals are smart, they feel and sense things when they are coming. I’m sure he found somewhere to take cover. He always seems to make it, and always seems to thrive.”
As of Tuesday morning, containment of the massive CZU August Lightning Complex had risen to 43 percent.
“We could use a phoenix right now in whatever shape that is. If it’s Albert, that’s a good thing. We’ll take it,” Bingham said.
Albert’s small symbol of hope inspired a young artist, Addison Ritchie, to create T-shirts with a drawing of the peacock, and donate proceeds to the Boulder Creek Volunteer Fire Department.
Her mother, Kathy Ritchie, wrote, “This past week we’ve seen our heroic firefighters put their lives on the line as they worked tirelessly to save our town. With a fraction of the requisite resources, against a fire of historical proportions, they didn’t hesitate to face the challenges head on. Albert reminds us that we will rise from the ashes of this fire and rebuild our wonderful town.”