Lee Fickes’ attractive pure white cowboy hat caught people’s eyes upon first glance. He dressed in black suspender pants and a checkered shirt. All he needed to add was a pair of cowboy boots to have the perfect look! He looked seasoned with life experiences with his silver white beard and was in overall healthy condition, aside from a slight limp.
At nearly six feet tall, Lee gave “a tough guy” impression to most people. His signature catch phrase is, “A cowboy will come back up again by himself, even after falling down.” On November 8th the day of Camp Fire, Lee fell down but stood back up again with strength, just as he always said.
The 83-year-old cowboy had been living in the town of Paradise for over twenty years. Lee had seen all kinds of fire incidents during those years. When he heard that the mountain fire was still six miles away, he figured he had some time to prepare based on past experiences. Lee took time to water his flowers and settle his dogs in his car.
Suddenly, his next door neighbor had a gas leak, which sent tiny sparks into an explosion surrounding Lee. He was thrown to the ground fifty feet away and lost consciousness.
By the time he awoke, Lee was surprised to see that the sky had blackened and his home was already been burnt down. He was blessed by God with great luck that the fire took a detour and did not devour him in the past four or five hours that he was unconscious.
Lee was unable to stand or climb due to the severe impact of the explosion. Eventually, he rolled to the side of his car and was able to stand with stabilizing support from the weight of the car. At that time, he found his three dogs had all passed away as a result of the high temperature of the fire.
This was the only time that Lee’s eyes turned red with tears while describing the events of the fire. With heartfelt words and the soon-to-be dropped tears, you could feel the most tender spot of this reserved Cowboy’s heart.
Lee slowly drove out of the town with his melted tailgate pick-up truck in the darkness. He figures that he was the last person evacuated from the town.
Currently, he is living in the RV parking in the yard of his ex-wife’s home. Lee holds the newly-received cash card and bamboo bank close to his heart, and tells the volunteer that he will share the compassion that he has received from Tzu Chi.
With all of his possessions being burned to ashes, he is forced to begin anew with a never-ending checklist of items on his to-do-list everyday. However by accepting assistance from organizations like Tzu Chi, Lee has developed the courage and strength to slowly lead a normal life again. Within his capacity, Lee will help others and continue to spread this positive energy to an infinite cycle of love.