Four-year-old Riley Wooten has always been a curious kid who asks a million questions.
But after the Camp Fire burned down his Paradise, California, home, the only thing he wanted to know was what happened to his dinosaur collection.
He once had hundreds of toy dinosaurs, but after the fire he was left with only two: the ones he grabbed as he fled his home with his grandmother and great-grandmother.
Escaping the fire
Riley was in preschool and lived with his grandmother and his aunt, Tanya Renfro, and their mother in a house that overlooked West Branch Canyon.
As the fire rapidly approached, Riley’s grandmother and her mom barely managed to escape with Riley before their home went up in flames. On their way out, Riley took two of his dinosaurs and his grandmother grabbed some of their clothes. Now, that’s all they have left.
“(My mother) was crying. … They were convinced they were going to die in the car,” Renfro said.
But Riley was fearless, patting his grandmother’s arm and assuring her it was all going to be OK because “I’m a dinosaur trainer.” He was wearing his hooded dinosaur jacket, and used his hood as comfort when propane explosions scared him as they were driving away.
‘That’s his obsession’
The three of them found refuge in a family member’s home, but Riley was heartbroken over the loss of his favorite toys.
“He had hundreds (of dinosaurs),” Renfro said. “He had them from birthdays and Christmases — we always got him dinosaurs. That’s his obsession.”
Riley was heartbroken and kept asking whether his dinosaurs had burned up.
So, when friends began asking what they could do to help, Renfro’s request was simple.
“(If) you would like to help Riley with a new toy or Dino just message me,” she posted on Facebook. And soon after that, the packages started coming in.
“My friend shared it and then others shared it,” she said.”I would get message requests from strangers,” all asking for Riley’s address.
So far, Riley has received more than a hundred dinosaurs. He thinks they’ve all come from the mailman.
“He would just light up and get so excited,” Renfro said. “He sits there and waits for the mailman to come.”
Almost nothing is left of Riley’s home. The preschool he attended was also destroyed. His aunt said this small act of kindness from strangers has kept him going.
“I don’t know if he fully understands where they’re coming from,” Renfro said. “But seeing him (with) all these dinosaurs that he lost come back to him. … I think that is helping him tremendously.”
Riley has gotten so many donated dinosaurs that he’s decided — on his own, his aunt said — to send some to an evacuation shelter so other children affected by the fire can enjoy them.