The perfect storm was brewing in northern California in 2017, but it was a storm in the traditional sense. Instead, the land had become so incredibly dry that officials knew a wildfire could easily spark. And it could spread rapidly once it was alight.
Their worst fears were realized by October 9, when multiple fires ignited and quickly grew. Some blazes spread to cover 20,000 acres in flames in a single day. By the time the blaze ended – the end of the month marked the end of the fires – almost 9,000 buildings and thousands of acres of land had been burned and destroyed.
In the midst of the quick-moving fires, thousands of Californians were forced to evacuate. Many had minutes to do so before the flames arrived unannounced on their doorsteps. With most residents gone, then, it was a shock to see one local sticking around and soldiering on: the mailman.
As this one particular driver traveled through burnt-down neighborhoods, he likely had no idea that anyone was watching since so many had evacuated and most homes appeared to be destroyed to a point where they were no longer inhabitable. But the mailman was on camera, and the actions shown were unbelievable considering the condition of his delivery route.
Photographer Douglas Thron had decided to capture the devastation left in the wake of the 2017 northern California wildfires in Santa Rosa. “It looks like a nuclear bomb just got dropped on the neighborhood,” he told Inside Edition, which featured his footage on its show.
His description is not far off: the foundations of many homes still stand, but everything else has turned to ash. Melted garage doors lay on driveways, and some even lean on the destroyed cars they were meant to protect.
This particular storm stood out to Thron, who had plenty of experience filming natural disasters. He told The Mercury News, “I’ve covered wildfires and floods before and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’d see areas that were totally fine, but then get to [other areas] and see them wiped out. It was unbelievable.”
Clearly, the fire – and the footage of its aftermath – was noteworthy enough, but then Thron saw movement. It was the mailman’s bright white truck zipping down the barren streets, making the footage caught by his drone even more incredible to watch.
Against such a bleak backdrop, “All of a sudden, you see this mail truck driving down the street,” Thron said, describing the scenes he had captured. “It just seemed surreal. It was like the last little piece of life on Earth.”
The reason the footage was so “surreal,” as Thron described it? The mailman behind the wheel was continuing to drop off and pick up mail. Sometimes he visited mailboxes left in front of homes that were completely flattened by the fires.
Thron posted the video of the mailman one day after capturing the footage. It, too, spread quickly across the Internet. More than 1.6 million people have watched the incredible aerial footage of a mailman sticking to his job in the midst of a national disaster.
With the spotlight shining on the Santa Rosa postal service, the bosses there at last recognized the driver of the truck as Trevor Smith. According to Inside Edition, many have since dubbed Smith “the most dedicated mailman ever.”
The part of Smith’s route shown in the footage was actually part of a senior mobile home park, and he was familiar with some of the residents along this route. They had asked him to try and deliver their mail in case they were permitted to go back to their properties.
So, for Smith, delivering to the devastated neighborhood was just a way to fulfill the promise he had made. “I followed my route like I normally do,” he said. He hoped to find houses where mailboxes were still standing.
Not only did he find what he was looking for, but they were filled. And not with the ash and debris he might’ve expected. “As I’d come across a box that was up but with no house, I checked and there was mail, outgoing mail, in it,” Smith said.
And the pattern continued as he continued on his route to the burned-down neighborhood. “The next day when I delivered there was, again, outgoing mail in that box,” he said. For Smith, that was reason enough to stick to his schedule despite the chaos that surrounded him.
“It’s important that we continue because we’re part of that community, they trust us, and we want to fulfill that trust by carrying on,” Smith said. Other members of the US Postal Service echoed this sentiment when asked about the Santa Rosa postman’s dedication.
San Francisco District Manager Noemi Luna released a statement regarding Smith, which said: “This is an example of the long standing relationship that has been established between our carriers and their customers based on trust.”
His type of dependability will be what many Californians need as they continue to rebuild after the devastating fires. In Santa Rosa alone – Smith’s mail-delivery territory – nearly 3,000 buildings were destroyed, including mansions, mobile homes and single-family dwellings.
And yet he stuck to his route, restoring a sense of normalcy to the world around him. The unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service says, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” It seems as though Smith continues to take those words to heart.