Paradise – The Aftermath

This is second in the series People Who Inspire

Kathy is smart, pretty, talented and tough. She is also a genuine-dyed-in-the-wool heroine. She survived the infamous Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise. California. The  fire burned one hundred ninety-two acres and took the lives of eight-five people.

While driving her grand-daughter and her friend to school, Kathy noticed the black smoke moving in from the east. Wildfires are not uncommon in this rural area,  but even so, the smoke was alarming. The school was not being evacuated, but Kathy returned to her home, gathered a few papers, her dog, grand-daughter and friend, and began the drive down The Skyway toward Chico in the valley below.

She didn’t get far. By now, the smoke had turned day into night. The fire moved incredibly fast. After several years of drought, the dead trees provided ample fuel for the fire. Fire-generated winds and the rugged topography made fire-fighting impossible. The first responders focused on saving lives.

Kathy and her passengers follow the instructions of the fire-fighters. They parked the car and went to a parking area where almost one hundred people were gathered to shelter in place. They lay on the tarmac, covering themselves with blankets and clothing. They would not be able to leave the area for eight hours.

At one point, fire-fighters asked if anyone had food in their car. A man with diabetes needed help. Always prepared, my sister had cookies in the car in addition to the bottled water she had shared.

Paradise and Magalia often used propane to fuel their homes. The parking area they were in had propane tanks on the edge. At one point, the flames reached this area and exploded the tanks. Those on the tarmac were moved to a metal building to shelter from the fumes of the propane.

The evacuation plan was dependent upon bulldozers clearing the burned cars from the Skyway so that caravans of evacuees could moved out of the area and down to Chico. The bulldozers arrived and the caravans began.

The scenery was frightening. Local business were on fire. The hospital burned and all familiar landmarks were gone. Flames licked both sides of the road.

Eventually, Kathy and her passengers made it out of the area and to the home of a friend. All this time, Kathy focused on keeping her grand-daughter, her friend and her dog, calm and secure. It was not an easy task. Later, Kathy described the area as looking like a war zone.

Kathy’s story could have easily ended differently. She was one of the fortunate ones. Her car was not damaged and her family survived. When I asked her how she got through this experience, she said she did it by focusing on what she had to do at that moment to keep everyone safe.

The damage from the Camp Fire will not be repaired for many years to come. Some homes may never be rebuilt. The trauma suffered by many, including Kathy, is immeasureable.