He was exhausted walking back to camp. He had never witnessed a wildfire spread so fast. He was covered in ash and dirt, desperate to lie down.
Then, in the dark gloomy light of the evening, he saw something that made his heart stop. From the camp came a billow of white smoke and the smell of charcoal and lighter fluid.
Ash and hot embers filled the air. More than 72,500 homes were in very real danger of being destroyed as they lay in the path of the devastating fires.
They were one of the most destructive fires to ever hit the state of California. But for firefighter Stuart Chavez, it was just another day. Or so he thought!
Chavez and his crew fought day and night to combat the infernos that were wiping out entire towns. It was a difficult task, but he was used to it. He worked 24-hour shifts without complaint.
The adrenaline of saving lives never failed to carry him through his exhaustion until his shift finished. Making his way back to the camp to rest, he’d usually feel the consequences of his tiredness, and this time was no different.
He walked back to their camp under a dark evening with his uniform and face covered in ash and dirt. He felt completely drained. He desperately needed rest as he felt his eyes begin to play tricks on him.
He shook his head, blinked and squinted. But that distant shadow still looked like a figure of a person in his mind. He rubbed his eyes and focused his vision.
His mind shot awake once he realized it wasn’t a shadow after all. There was a strange man dressed in black walking away from the camp. He was too far away to see his face but he knew with certainty that he wasn’t one of his crew.
Chavez picked up his pace so he could introduce himself but before he could get near, the man vanished into the trees.
Chavez made his way to the place where the man had entered the forest. There wasn’t even a trail there. He had walked into a dense area of shrubs and bushes. What was he up to?
Chavez stood puzzled for a minute before shrugging it off and continuing towards the camp. But as he started to walk, he couldn’t let go of the feeling that something wasn’t right. And then he saw it.
The police, volunteers, and firefighters were working around the clock to try and bring the fires under control when the smoke appeared in their camp. Something was seriously wrong.
Chavez’s heart quickened as his feet sprung into action. They couldn’t risk the camp being burned down since it was the only place where those battling the fires could rest.
As he ran, it hit him. Did that stranger set this fire and run? It was the only thing that made sense.
His faith in humanity crumbled at the thought of someone setting a fire on purpose right now. Especially when he and his team were putting everything on the line to stop them. His heart grew heavy as he reached the camp. But what he’d find would only make him move faster.
His eyes darted across the camp as he looked for the source of the smoke but then he smelled something that stopped him dead in his tracks.
Chavez smelled the familiar scent of lighter fluid and charcoal. A chill went down his spine as arson ran through his mind. He was about to turn and run after that strange man when he noticed something else.
He noticed another smell he couldn’t quite place, but it was enough to make him rethink his strategy. After all, it was almost dark and he had no idea where that man went. He could be long gone by now.
Instead, he followed the smell and smoke to a wide open clearing within the camp. He braced himself as he walked closer into the unknown.
Evacuees were standing around the smoke. Some were clutching their pets and prized possessions that they had managed to rescue as they left their homes. Others were holding each other.
They all stared in disbelief at the scene unfolding before them. One woman grabbed Chavez’s shoulder as he pushed his way through the stunned crowd.
“It’s Guy Fieri!” she said excitedly. Chavez couldn’t believe his eyes. Before him stood the cause of the fire and scent. And it was indeed Guy Fieri.
However, instead of the fire he expected to see, Chavez saw Guy Fieri standing in front of a BBQ grill. The smell of smoked pork belly filled the air and Chavez realized what had happened.
Walking up to Guy was his assistant, carrying a small empty container. The very same man who Chavez saw earlier heading into the forest. He must have gone in to dump the ashes of the grill before they started to cook.
The truth was that Guy had heard about the long hours the brave men and women were putting in to fight the fires and he just knew he had to help.
Chavez was still confused though. He’d heard that Guy Fieri had closed his restaurant and fled the wildfires like so many other people around the area.
As he stood there he noticed that all the other crew couldn’t believe their eyes either. Guy couldn’t help them fight the fires but instead of running away to save himself he had run to the fire to help out the brave men and women.
The camp was not only a place for those battling the fires to rest, but it also served as a camp for evacuees to be housed temporarily. Guy had thought of a way to give everyone a spark of hope.
And for this, Chavez and Butte County Sheriff’s were more grateful than they could possibly explain. So naturally, they took to social media.
One photo that was posted had the caption: “Guy Fieri made a surprise visit to serve dinner to everyone at the law enforcement staging area at Butte College. Thank you so much Guy for filling our bellies and lifting our spirits.”
Guy cooked various meals for those assembled, including his famous pulled pork and several other dishes. It was a simple act that meant a lot. And it wouldn’t be the last.
Despite numerous efforts and days of constant dedication to contain the wildfires, they were still spreading. Although the fire was 80% contained, the other 20% left burning was treacherous.
Firefighters and police officers had been working around the clock for more than two weeks, and it wasn’t looking like they’d get back to their families for the holidays. Luckily, Guy had another fantastic idea.
He couldn’t fathom the thought that so many people were going to be away from their home on Thanksgiving, so he came up with a brilliant idea. He’d bring thanksgiving to them.
Food television personalities Guy Fieri and Jose Andres did just that. On November 22nd, 2018, he arrived once again to “Camp Fire” and set up his “World Central Kitchen” tent.
Alongside several other chefs, these two celebrities dedicated their Thursday to cooking thousands of Thanksgiving dinners for victims of the deadly fire in Northern California.
They estimated that 150,000 meals would be served, and once people heard about their incredible efforts, volunteers couldn’t help but pitch in.
More than 800 volunteers joined Guy Fieri and Andres at their Thanksgiving feast.
“The least we can be doing today, on Thanksgiving, is all coming together to show the people what they deserve: love and support, one plate of food at a time,” Andrés said in a Thursday morning Twitter video.
Guy later tweeted a picture thanking the “dedicated hard-working” firefighters and officers who battled the relentless and devastating fires for several weeks.
Between preparing meals and bringing the heat into the kitchen, Guy took the time to pose for photos with officials from the Butte County Sheriff’s office, The Sacramento Police Department, and Auburn Police Department.
The Auburn Police Department posted a picture on their Twitter account with the caption, “Guy is cooking pulled pork dinner for everyone this evening.”
“He had also thanked everyone that was helping out for their hard work! Thank you, Guy, for your time, support and great food! #ButteCounty.” But this was just the beginning.
Guy posted updates when he could to keep everyone informed on what was happening with both his efforts and the firefighters.
He posted a photo of the fires to his personal Instagram page writing, “In today’s tumultuous world, it’s amazing to see our firefighters, military, law enforcement, and first responders come together to rescue our communities devastated by fire.”
Guy had surprised the hardworking firefighters and law enforcement officials by delivering and cooking such an enormous meal.
“You stand up; you face it; and you go after it,” Guy stated, “You don’t back down from it.” Everyone in the camp was equally shocked and delighted when they noticed what was going on. So they decided to stand up too.
Guy started his day on Thursday at 5 a.m., and he took to Twitter to show the whole world his preparations, “We are off and cooking at 5 am. Goin’ for 7000lb of Turkey on 6 smokers!”.
Little did he know, these incredibly heroic men and women were soon going to show the chef just how amazing they were.
As word got out that Guy was going to cook and serve Thanksgiving dinner to everyone who needed it, people started piling up at the door.
Even officials made their way into the camp and shocked everyone with their numbers. To Guy, it looked like he was about to put his money where his mouth was. But then something unexpected happened.
Major General Beevers joined in to feed the soldiers working on the grounds. The place was full of firefighters, officers, and military men and women.
It was a sea of uniforms and a lot of mouths to feed. Guy suddenly got nervous that he hadn’t prepared enough. But before he could worry too much, he witnessed something he’d never forget.
Struggling to hold back his emotions, Guy watched as the men and women grabbed aprons instead of plates.
“We got Cal fire that I thought was coming to enjoy the food. No, they’re in there serving for Thanksgiving!” the celebrity chef said. More and more crew were coming to the camp and Guy thought that this was because they wanted to eat dinner, but he was wrong. They were there to help!
Thousands of people were part of the Camp’s Thanksgiving dinner. Most of the people who joined were complete strangers, but they all had two things in common; tragedy and resilience.
Everyone talked about what they were thankful for despite the great tragedy. “I’m alive,” Virginia Partain, a teacher at Paradise High, said. “My students all made it out. They’re all alive, and I believe in hope.”
Little by little, the fire had become contained, but sadly a lot of people were still unaccounted for. The devastating flames had forced more than 27,000 people into shelters.
But for a couple of hours on the day of Thanksgiving, Guy Fieri gave them all something to be thankful for, he gave them all hope and strength, to protect and serve, to fight and to never give up. And he was inspired by the man who founded the relief project.
The idea first came to Stan Hays when he was working in insurance in Missouri in May 2011. A devastating tornado had just ripped through the town of Joplin.
Feeling shattered when he saw how many lives had been affected, Stan felt a desperate urge to help. Deciding to do take action, he called up his friend, Jeff Stith.
Stan Hays and Jeff Stith shared a common skill that Stan thought he could put to good use — they were both pitmasters on competitive barbecue teams.
The men decided to put out a call on social media to see if they had any response. And by noon the following day, their inboxes were full.
Dozens of their friends had answered the call! So, the men got to work. The team of pitmasters and volunteers drove to the town, where they set up their smokers.
Looking around them, they saw the damage the hurricane had caused. Roofs were torn clean off houses and entire areas had been reduced to a pile of rubble.
Stan thought they would only have enough supplies for a three or four-day cookout, but something extraordinary happened. “Whenever we needed something, it seemed to appear,” he said.
In the end, the team stayed in the town, cooking up BBQ and serving families, for longer than anyone could have anticipated. A lot longer…
“I thought, who better than some guys who set up in parking lots every weekend to bring a comfort meal?” Stan explained. The team ended up staying for 11 days, and they served an astonishing 120,000 meals.
Stan knew there was obviously a need for what they were providing. And so, Operation BBQ Relief was born.
Since the first BBQ Relief mission, Stan and his team have responded to more than 40 disasters in 24 states. Ultimately, Operation BBQ Relief has served over 1,700,000 meals to families in need.
And, after the devastation left behind the California fires, Operation BBQ Relief announced they would be deploying their resources to Santa Rosa and Napa in California, where they were met by Guy Fieri.
Guy Fieri, an avid supporter of OBR, brought much of his own equipment and his own employees to the campsite. He’s also personally been volunteering with OBR in his spare time.
With the now-massive team on the ground, they were able to serve over 50,000 hot meals to those whose lives had been destroyed by the California fires.
But Operation BBQ Relief serves more than ribs and sandwiches. “Barbecue is comfort food,” Stan said. “It reminds people of good times with friends and family, and gives them hope for those good times again.”
And it makes sense — barbecue meals tend to be hearty and high in protein, which makes them good for periods of scarcity. Stan says that many of the disaster survivors he serves haven’t had a warm meal in days.
Everyone involved with Operation BBQ Relief says they all have at least one “moment” that keeps them motivated. For Leigh Carnell, the first moment was after Hurricane Harvey, which hit southeast Texas in 2017.
“It hit home,” she said. “I spent 10 days total volunteering. You get hooked; you get addicted. You just want to help more.” Then, at the next disaster site, Leigh met a family who had lost everything. When she handed the mother a hot plate of food, she just hugged her and cried with gratitude. “I hope that meal gave her a sense of peace, a sense of hope,” Leigh said.
As for Stan, his moment came after that first disaster — the tornado in Joplin. “Mine is the little old lady who had told us about the tornado and riding out the tornado in her bathroom,” he said. “Basically, by the time it was over, there was no roof and she could see the sky and her house was gone.”
“I just remember her coming up with tears and thanking us for a hot meal,” he sais. “It was one of the most humbling feelings I’ve ever had.”