“Dad, I can’t make it,” the 17 year old yelled through the phone. Flames had surrounded his vehicle and he would have to leave it if he wanted to escape the flames. He jumped out and started running. His cell phone lost connection, his terrified dad listening to the silence, not knowing whether his son had succumbed to the fire. The boy kept running until, exhausted and tired, he finally made it safely through the flames, three whole miles.
She woke up in the morning thinking about the chores that needed to be done that day. The first on the list was conquering the large pile of laundry sitting next to the washing machine. Trying to talk herself into getting out of bed, she glanced out the window. It seemed a lot darker than normal. She looked at the clock and confirmed that it was indeed 8am. She heard a text on her phone and noticed that her friend had sent her a picture of flames shooting up from the hills not too far from where her friend lived.
“Oh wow,” she texted her friend. ”Are we still going walking?”
“We’ve been told to evacuate. You need to start packing!”, her friend immediately responded.
She had evacuated once many years ago and didn’t see any real urgency in the situation. Last time she was able to leisurely gather together a few items and take her time leaving. The fire then hadn’t even come close to touching her home. Her friend must be overreacting. She went to the bedroom closet to gather up a few of her and her husband’s clothes (He was at work 45 minutes away). The clothes she really needed were the ones in the laundry, but she probably shouldn’t wait to clean those before she left.
Noticing the many family pictures on the wall, she figured, in the rare chance that the fire did destroy any part of her home, she wanted those pictures and started to take them off the wall. She was interrupted this time by a call from her friend.
“Have you left yet? No? GET OUT NOW!”, her friend yelled.
The sound of the friend’s voice began to concern her a bit. She stepped over the pictures she had taken down from the wall, grabbed the three suitcases of clothes and threw them in her car. It wasn’t until she started driving, she began to get worried. There were cars and people everywhere. It was now about 9 a.m. — the sky did not seem any lighter. If anything, it appeared to be getting darker. She couldn’t see flames anywhere, but in retrospect, she figured they were likely not far behind the darkened skies.
It took an hour crawling in traffic, just for her to get three miles. Three hours later she arrived safely in Chico. On a normal day, the whole trip would have just taken 30 minutes. Within just a few hours, her home, along with the entire town of Paradise, was gone.
Stories of those trying to flee the Paradise fire are many. Flames swiftly surrounded homes and cars and many were unable to escape the scorching inferno. Firemen have found some of the remains of these individuals who must have been terrified as they tried to elude the flames, but could not make it.
Paradise was a town in the hills far away from the noise and bustle of any major city. It was a town where one could wake up in the morning and breathe in cool, crisp fresh “mountain” air — a town that many who lived there considered it to be their paradise.
My brother and his wife were among the “lucky ones.” They lost their home and everything in it and my sister-in-law was unable to save the photos she so desperately wanted, but she and her husband are so grateful to be alive.
The pain and grief of the loss experienced by those that lived in Paradise is immense. Anger, denial, depression — they feel all the emotions one experiences after a death. Their paradise is lost and what remains now is just a pile of smoke, dust and ash.
In difficult times such as these, there is often a small light at the end of the tunnel. That light, which has been shown by so many, is what makes this incredible, horrific loss a little less painful. It’s the light of the nurses and doctors working together to evacuate patients to safety, before the hospital burned to the ground. It’s the light of firemen risking their lives to put out flames to rescue those who were trapped. It’s the light of numerous people offering their homes, money, love and support to those now homeless.
I have been utterly amazed at those wanting to help out my brother and his wife as well as other victims of the fire. In a world recently turned upside down by division, it’s wonderful to see everyone coming together! I thank you — my brother and wife thank you!
To all the citizens of Paradise, we (your family, friends and loving strangers) mourn with you, we hurt for you, we love you and hope that will bring just a touch of paradise back into your lives.