ABC News (SANTA ROSA, Calif.) — An Iraq veteran spent this week sifting through the charred remains of his parents' California house to find one of his most precious items: the dog tags he deployed with.
While Brady Harvell's Santa Rosa home survived the deadly wildfire that tore through the area, his parents, who live nearby at the house he grew up in, lost everything.
Harvell said his parents' house had already filled with smoke by the time they woke up. They grabbed their two dogs, two cats and fled. They didn't have time for anything extra, like his baby pictures, he said.
"Everybody I grew up with … everybody's house is gone. It's absolutely nuts," he told ABC News.
But Harvell, 31, had to come back to his parents' destroyed home to search for the dog tags he gave to his father after he returned from his yearlong deployment to Iraq in 2013.
"It took two hours to sift through and find it, but it's what I wanted. I needed to find them," he said. "I spent 12 months of my life in Iraq wearing these things — [they] mean a lot to me."
With nothing left standing at the house, he didn't think he'd find them. Miraculously, though, he managed to locate one, which he said is enough.
"I can't believe it," he said, with goosebumps on his arm. "It's mind-blowing. I can't even comprehend it."
"I'm happy with this," he added. "Maybe if I come back with my parents later and start digging for more stuff I'll find it."
While his parents lost everything, they are OK, "thank goodness," he said. For now, his parents are staying with his grandparents.
"Where are you supposed to go? Where's the whole neighborhood supposed to go?" he said. "Start rebuilding. Only thing you can do."
Santa Rosa is among the hardest hit areas of devastating wildfires in California. Officials said today that 560 people remain missing in Sonoma County, which includes Santa Rosa.
Firefighters are battling 22 wildfires across the state that have killed 21 people and burned about 170,000 acres.
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