The damage to Paul Hemmelgarn’s property is obvious from the road, but the charred trees give way to a view of his home, still standing after the McKinley Fire. 

“It jumped the highway and rolled right through the barrier of trees I had between me and the highway," he explained, later adding, “we had a very hectic afternoon with about an hour’s warning.” 

Sheltering in place with no electricity, Hemmelgarn used anything and everything he had to protect his home — including items from his pantry — when his house started to catch on fire. 

“I had three bottles of V8 juice I bought at Costco and they were sitting on the shelf. So that was my extinguishing media,” Hemmelgarn laughed. “Whatever works. Then I was getting ready to break into the cranberry juice.”

Paul Hemmelgarn used bottles of V8 juice to save his home during the McKinley Fire. (Daniella Rivera / KTVA)

He saved his home and his shop, but wasn’t able to save two other outbuildings or the cabin he leased to new tenant about a month ago.  

“There’s nothing that can be saved,” said Tisha Negus, who lived in the cabin. 

The single mother who works two jobs was at work when the wind shifted and the McKinley Fire blazed toward her home. She tried to get back to the house but got stuck in traffic.

“I just seen like the biggest, blackest smoke covering — it was like really, really strange — it was covering the whole sky, like you couldn’t even see anything,” Negus said. “I was right there at the bottom of the overpass and I was like, ‘My house is just right there,’ and I was like, ‘You know what, my house is probably not there anymore.’ Cause it was so bad.”  

The frame of a tricycle stands next to what is left of the cabin Tisha Negus and her daughter lived in. (Daniella Rivera / KTVA)

The frame of a child’s tricycle stands next to what is now an ash and metal filled pit. Luckily, her 2-year-old, Crimson, was staying elsewhere at the time of the fire and had her favorite toys.

Negus says her toddler is her motivation for continuing on.

“I was crying, you know, and she just [said], ‘Don’t cry, mama. Don’t cry,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, you’re gonna make me cry even more you’re so adorable,’” she said.

At 42, having lived in Willow her entire life, Negus said she considers herself lucky. She’s come out of every other fire in the area unscathed, until now.

Tisha Negus and her daughter, Crimson. (Photo Courtesy:

Her friend created a GoFundMe account to help Negus and her daughter get back on their feet. Negus says she’s blown away by the generosity she’s been shown already. 

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