Man stays behind to make room for family on CHP helicopter as wildfires raged in Napa

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ByVic Lee KGO logo
Thursday, October 12, 2017
Man stays behind so CHP chopper can rescue family during raging North Bay wildfires
A reunion took place between a CHP helicopter crew and the family they rescued right after the Atlas Peak wildfire broke out near their home Sunday night.

NAPA, Calif. (KGO) -- A reunion took place between a CHP helicopter crew and the family they rescued right after the Atlas Peak fire started on Sunday night.

The father of the family made a difficult decision. This was the first time since the rescue that the CHP helicopter crewmembers saw Pepe and Graciela Tamayo, their son Jesse and his grandparents.

FULL LIST: North Bay fires prompt evacuations, road closures

On Sunday night, as the flames raced through Atlas Peak, Tamayo and his family left their home just before it burned to the ground. "All I can see was flames, was like 15, 20-feet high," Pepe said.

They drove up to a field along the mountain. That's when pilot Pete Gavitte and CHP Flight Ofc. Whitney Lowe saw Tamayo and his extended family, and they landed the chopper. "I said we can take four people and he made the decision of who was going to go, a very selfless act on his part," Lowe said.

"So, I told these guys please take my family, I'll be here, I'll be alright," Pepe said.

"I was crying. My son, my mom, everybody was crying," Graciela said.

Pepe tried hard not show his fear, but the flames were close. "I called my daughter and I told her mi hija, if I don't see you again, remember I love you and that was it," he said.

His courage and selflessness did not go unnoticed. "He's saying take my family and go, so I mean you know kudos to him, I mean what a guy," Gavitte said.

"I told him we were coming back. I don't think he believed us," Lowe said.

Lowe meant what he said, and later that night, they found Pepe and picked him up. "I was like nervous when he didn't come, but he came," Pepe's son said.

"When I saw him again, I was so happy and thanking God for saving his life," Graciela said.

"I want to thank the officers because If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be alive right now," Pepe said.

The Tamayo family lives in a house on a ranch where he works, and they lost everything.

That night, crews made 26 rescues in seven hours.

Click here for full coverage on the North Bay fires.

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Debbie Wolfe looks over the burned ruins of her home of 30 years Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif.
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