Daniel Bush, 62, was just getting his health back on track.
Seven months ago, he finally got the hip surgery he’d been putting off for 10 years. All the hours he’d worked as a contractor, bartender and truck driver, had finally caught up to him, and he agreed it was time for him to start paying attention to his health.
“Once he got his hip fixed, it was like a miracle for him,” said Kathi Gaston, 61, Bush’s sister. “He was just so excited about how well he was going to feel pretty soon.”
Gaston said after the surgery her brother was standing up a lot straighter, like he was back to being "his 6-foot-1 again."
“I keep picturing him. His laugh was wonderful,” she said, her voice breaking.
Gaston talked about her brother while having breakfast at Lim's Cafe in Redding with her husband Terry Gaston, 73, and their son Nick, 22.
Last Tuesday, Bush returned to his mobile home in Keswick after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery.
The surgery wore him out, Gaston said. Her family didn’t live too far from Bush, and they checked on him twice a day. So he wouldn’t have to walk far, Gaston had stocked his kitchen with food.
But on Thursday, when the Carr Fire came raging through their neighborhood just after 7:30 p.m., Gaston said she tried to get to her brother only to find roads leading to his Market Street home in Keswick blocked by officers.
In mandatory evacuations, officers at barricades are generally under orders never to allow civilians back in, particularly with the threat level rising. Anyone who stays behind or re-enters puts not only himself or herself but also emergency responders at great risk, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said repeatedly at briefings and town halls this week.
“We couldn’t get in anywhere to get him out,” Kathi Gaston said. “He couldn’t have even gotten out of there without any help.”
Gaston was helpless and desperate. The fire had jumped the Sacramento River, and she was ordered to immediately evacuate with her son, husband and dogs. She left her chickens behind.
“If we’d been able to go in when we wanted to, he’d be alive right now,” she said. “I’m very upset about it.”
Bush had wanted to stay in his own home, she said. He wasn’t allowed to drive, his cell phone signal was spotty, and the power was out. She wonders if he could’ve gotten reports on the fire from television.
“He didn’t know,” she said. “My brother might have just been in bed, sleeping. And he might not have ever known.”
She’s sure he would’ve gone with her, had she been given the chance to get him, because he couldn’t walk long distances.
“He wasn’t himself. He needed help to get out of there,” she said. “When a fire comes through that fast, you just don’t have a chance.”
Gaston went to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday to file a missing person’s report on him, but still wondered if Bush survived. She called several hospitals in Shasta County and even Mercy Medical Center in Mount Shasta, more than an hour north of Redding.
“I knew. When I couldn’t get a hold of him, I knew,” she said. “I just had the gut feeling.”
Sunday, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko announced at a press conference investigators had found the remains of a sixth person in a home that had received evacuation orders.
“There ain’t much left, just his hip bone,” Gaston said. “At least we’ve got a little more closure. Now we know.”
Gaston said she’ll always remember how devoted her brother was to her, their sister and their families. He especially loved cars and had recently finished restoring a Datsun 1600.
“He was a heck of a mechanic,” she said. “He kept going no matter what.”
Their father Ed Bush, 84, of Willow Creek, is feeling the loss of his beloved son, Gaston said.
“That was his right-hand man,” Gaston said of her brother’s relationship with their father.
It’s going to be difficult to move forward, Gaston said. They’ve had close calls with fires before but none like the Carr Fire. And no longer having her brother around will be a big hole in their family, she said.
“We’re just going to keep on trucking,” she said.