The Camp Fire in Northern California raged from November 8, 2018 until its full containment on November 25, 2018. According to Wikipedia the Camp Fire:
“caused at least 86 civilian fatalities, with 3 persons still missing, injured 12 civilians, two prison inmate firefighters, and three other firefighters. It covered an area of 153,336 acres (62,053 ha), and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours. The Camp Fire was the most destructive wildfire in history. Total damage was $16.5 billion; one-quarter of the damage, $4 billion, was not insured.”
Those are the cold, hard facts. They give an image of the extent of the fire itself. They do not come close to describing the human costs.
Out of the devastation and heartbreak two things need our attention. The KINDNESS and COURAGE of the people most affected by the conflagration. The following are reflections of two such people.
The first is an email from my childhood friend, Sandy Scrivner. Sandy’s home survived and she has vowed to remain in her home for one year to help other people regain their lives. True KINDNESS.
The below is written by the son of one of the people who is staying at my home after the fire. He has given permission for me to copy it and send it to you, and also given permission if you want to share this. He posted this on his FB page. I found it to be one persons account in those first hours of the fire escaping it, that describes so well the waking up and fleeing the fire.
Yes, the recovery in Butte County is everywhere. Its what is still on all minds hearts and souls. Many have moved out of the area. Housing is at all time low, as is real estate. Almost daily I have real estate people calling or getting mail from them wondering if I want to sell. The price of my place has gone up several hundreds of thousands of dollars, its now close to a million. due to supply and demand. I have committed for a year that my place will be here for all staying here, to start the recovery of their lives, (7 people here) that I will not be selling. After that year, we will revisit where all are at. I had thought of selling and sizing down before the fire. I had about a year to finish purging all my stuff from the ranch we sold and from all my elders things, (ALOT OF STUFF) then I was going to sell. Now, the high dollar I could get for this place just does not seem right, on the human side of it all. So I hunker in place, and enjoy the “little” forced community that is at my property. Which is filled with the richness of souls, in so much appreciation of having this place to rest their hearts, as they plan the rest of their lives. Several work in my garden and land, I delight seeing them out there, working thru their pain, as they give beauty to plants and landscape. Many are still in shelters or sleeping in their cars/vans or couch surfing from home to home. Again, I fall to my knees in humbleness, as stories are shared of memories of things they have lost, as each time something comes to mind in their heart, and they speak of the loss, the strength to let go, and step once again into rebuilding and being in the now. Courage. Sandy”
Sandy enclosed the writing of Alex Groh. It is his first hand account of his escape from the Camp Fire. It is a story of COURAGE.
“This seems like a million miles away. So many beautiful memories together there. I’m beginning to realize that we can’t try to replace what we had: the wonderful gifts, memories, the cute little things that made this house our home. We have to remember those times and we get to look forward to making more of those memories. We almost didn’t get the privilege to see another day.
There were no warnings and no evacuation orders. Apparently there was an opt-in evacuation list that, even after 2 years in Paradise, we were never told about. Our house was in the middle of town, far from the normally endangered areas.
It started around 6:30am the next mountain over on the far side. At around 6:45am or so I saw smoke discoloring the sunlight and found online that it was a small fire miles away that evacuated the small town of Pulga. It didn’t seem to be a danger to us and there was no communication from official sources that said otherwise. I decided to start thinking about what to bring if we did have to evacuate over the next few days or week (as previous fires had been).
At 8:23am Emily Joy Groh called me from work and said the Starbucks management was sending them home because they heard of some evacuations on the far east side of town. We didn’t know the fire had already reached those areas and was burning the hospital and houses near my mom’s neighborhood.
At 8:30am we frantically began to pack as the sky turned from orange to blood red to black as night. We grabbed some papers, laptop, and some clothes. Our street went from a few cars here and there to gridlocked with people fleeing the advancing fire line to the east of us to escape through Clark Road or Skyway to the west.
At 9:15am we started hearing explosions from the east and realized it was propane tanks exploding outside of houses somewhere in town. We got in the car immediately and joined the gridlocked traffic, who without hesitating created room to let us in. We didn’t know it at the time, but the entire town was already surrounded by fire and found out from a neighbor of ours in a hotel lobby later, that at that moment on the other side of Stratton’s Market across the street from us a spot fire had started and would soon begin catching trees and houses.
At 9:51am just a little ways down our street, Nunneley, we could see to the right of us a cluster of houses burning including our family friend Elisabeth’s house. We were moving inches a minute as the fire spread and moved closer to the road. We prayed fervently, told our family we loved them, and knew that with this one, we might not make it out. We soon lost cell service. We sang hymns to keep our minds from going to the worst and remind each other that our hope and life consists in Jesus alone. This was the middle of town.
By 11am we made it to Skyway and heard they opened up the in-bound lanes for out-bound traffic. We breathed a sigh of relief and thought we were home free. We even saw our pastor Bryan in a car near us and rejoiced to have our friend near us. As we approached the edge of town however, we saw those in-bound lanes engulfed in flames and we’re quickly ushered down Neal Road. A small two lane road with no shoulder and towering trees lining the entire way.
At 12pm noon we were well down Neal Road and it was as dark as midnight. We watched embers and sparks blown by the wind shower over our car. We could hear explosions and an orange glow through the trees to the right of us. We inched forward in traffic as we passed the Theatre on the Ridge and saw a lone firefighter silhouetted against roaring flames 40 yards down the road. Battling the flames back from the road. From then on the fire line remained to our right and approached the road with the wind.
Finally we came to a standstill in traffic. Both lanes crammed with cars where Roe Road feeds into Neal. Nearby on our right a home was on fire and exploding. The grass field in front of their house was burning and moving quickly to the road with every gust of wind. We sat there stuck in place in gridlock for 20 minutes as we watched the fire move closer to us and catch a fallen oak 20 feet away. The winds whipped around and we prayed they would go the other way.
People began leaving their cars on the side of the road and fleeing on foot. A woman carrying her two toddlers was running the other way, back into Paradise. Emily reached out the window to put masks on all three of them before the mother kept running. People said the fire was about to jump the road ahead and that it was worse ahead and getting worse every second. People told us to run. We didn’t know what to believe. The smoke grew thicker. Did they send us down here not knowing we would all be trapped to die? Emily had the intuition to stay with the car as long as we could until we no longer could. We were ready to bolt as others did but decided that we would wait until the oak overhanging our car caught fire. Then we would have no choice. We prayed, said we loved each other, and would stick together no matter what happened next. We were determined to make it. The traffic started moving before we had to run and we began moving at a steady pace. We saw police and CHP waving traffic forward ahead. Thank God.
Soon after 1pm we made it out of the thick forest and could look to our right to see the fire raging in the gulley between Neal and Skyway. There was still traffic all the way out and we prayed for those in the cars behind us. We thanked God for our lives and once we had cell service again immediately tried to reach our family to make sure they made it out okay and to tell them we did. We kept driving and didn’t stop until Yuba City. Couldn’t stop driving away.
There was no warning. Some had it easier than us. Some had it worse. Some didn’t make it out. We are broken hearted from those who didn’t make it. Those who were people just like us. We are at the same time grateful that so many did make it–it could have been worse. We thank God that those trees didn’t fall and block the few roads left to get out. We thank God for the firefighters and law enforcement who rushed into the fire, against all sense, to help us get out.
Please pray for all those who lost so much. We know that there will be beauty from the ashes. But there is a time for mourning.”