Riley Wooten only had time to grab one dinosaur as he fled his house.
As the Washington Post reports, the 4-year-old from Paradise, California, was forced to evacuate with his grandmother as the deadly Camp Fire destroyed his home. In the panic to leave before the fire swept down on them, Riley could only grab Chompy, his favorite dinosaur.
It took hours to make it to safety, and the young boy had to fall back on his experience as a dinosaur wrangler to get him through the stress of it all. His grandmother, Teri Schesson, told WFMY that Riley showed great courage and tried to keep her calm:
“We were stuck in the car for three hours and he was comforting me. I was having a fit. There were flames on both sides.”
Finally, they made it to Oroville, California, where they had family. But Riley couldn’t stop thinking about what he lost in the wildfire — specifically, his dinosaur collection.
Four year old Riley lost his home and his dinosaur collection in the Camp Fire.His aunt posted about it on Facebook…
Tanya Renfro, Riley’s great-aunt, noticed that the loss of his dinosaurs hit Riley hard. While everyone was dealing with the aftermath of the fire in his or her own way, for Riley, it always came back to one thing. Renfro told Today:
“He said, ‘Aunt Tanya the house is gone.’ I said, ‘I know baby.’ He said, ‘And all my dinosaurs are gone.’ And I said, ‘I know baby.'”
That got Renfro thinking about how she could lessen the sense of grief for her nephew. She posted about Riley on Facebook, writing:
This kid lost almost all of his toys and dinosaur collection. He lives and breathes dinos and keeps asking if they burned up. I have a lot of friends asking how to help my family right now. If you would like to help Riley with a new toy or dino just message me.
Renfro thought she might end up getting a couple of dinosaurs from her close friends. Instead, her post kept getting shared. And the dinosaurs started pouring in from around the country.
“All my friends shared my Facebook post and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, give me that baby’s address,'” she told the Post. “Some days, we’d get five packages.”
Now, Riley’s dinosaur collection is 100 strong and still growing. He still gets sad about losing his home and school, but talking about his dinosaurs gets him smiling again.
“I got dinosaur blankets, I got a pillowcase with my name on it and a dinosaur that poops other dinosaurs out,” Riley happily told the Post.
Watch the video below:
Renfro told Today that they were deeply touched by the generosity they’d experienced:
“It is kind of hard to put into words … everything they have done helps that little boy overcome what has happened to him. It has been overwhelming and amazing.”
Schesson agreed, telling WFMY that they consider themselves luckier than many others who were affected by the wild fire:
“It’s amazing, I can’t believe the outpouring of support and compassion people have showed ’cause there are people worse than us. We have our lives.”
The family says that the packages have continued to arrive, though Riley doesn’t need any more dinosaurs. In fact, the young boy ended up with so many dinos that he decided to donate some to a shelter in Gridley, where he and his grandmother are now living. His aunt, Jenny Benson, told the Post:
“He’s bagged up some to give to kids who really don’t have anything. It’s a good lesson for him to pay it forward.”