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This what happened, it only took 30 minutes or so and the home and everything in it was destroyed…


The following is a bit unsettling; proceed if you’re cool with that.
Emily L. Wycoff, ex-resident of 6215 Pentz Road, Paradise, CA 95969 USA. This fire began in the Pulga Gap in California just before Concow, and has since retained its title as the worst in California’s history.
[1] Getting Out
I was awoken at roughly 7:30am to a warning from my mother about an orange canopy overhead indicating one of many past fire threats; it was imperative that we gather our things and possibly leave the area for a while. Until this instance, none of these scares had actually forced us to leave for good. In the past, we would gather our most important belongings and live at a relative’s house for days or weeks. I started to gather and load my most precious belongings, leaving certain things which I could’ve brought but didn’t. I lost several clothes, drawings and paintings, a sewing machine, several instruments and electronics, various gifts, and jewelry. My mother’s boyfriend, Darren, became agitated that this danger was not being broadcast and that warnings were not being offered on television or online. I became nauseous and wet a washcloth, which I kept with me throughout the whole ordeal. Darren and I went outside several times to see a red sky growing rapidly darker until, within minutes, it was like night. We heard the first propane tank explode in the distance. “Armageddon,” he sighed. We began seeing fire and police vehicles lining the road with other cars and making noise. My mom instructed us to meet at Ace Hardware. I ran back inside and got the cat (he promptly jumped from the box, and so I simply placed him in my vehicle with his food, towel, and bowl in tow); Darren backed his own car up to our door. I told him I was leaving, and he said to head downhill. I began taking long, timed yoga breaths, and I found myself burping frequently, making sure I wasn’t about to vomit.
[2] On the Road
I found that a lot of cars were turning around just before the hospital not a quarter of a mile from my home, and I followed suit, looking up and down the road and to the gestures of other drivers for direction. The traffic was slow or halted until 2:00pm. We were in the midst of a thick cloud of smoke by the time I reached my house again, and after I passed it I started to see things alight, and I became more uneasy. I kept my head and frequently reassured my howling cat, but I’d never experienced anything of the sort before–my imagination and instincts ran together as I tried to predict how the situation could turn for the worst, and what I needed to do in the immediate following seconds depending on *every* element of my environment and the changes therein. There wasn’t a moment wherein I was not vigilant. From this moment I grappled for over two straight hours with the possibility that I might die a searing, painful death alongside my innocent cat, leaving loved ones behind. My mind leaped between the most appropriate moments to stay seated or hop vehicles, but it never came to the latter. Buildings and trees began to catch, and I could not see around me except for the flames of burning trees and structures–what would have registered as electrical lights at night were now columns of flame midday. I was afraid that I might be crushed or exposed by a tree, branch, or flying debris. I was afraid that I would be locked inside my car as the road melted underneath, or that my tires would get stuck to the road. I was afraid that my fear would force me to pass out, endangering us both. I was afraid that a wire would fall from above and electrocute my car. I was afraid a more desperate vehicle would damage mine to the point of immobility in its attempt to escape at the expense of others. I wished that I had sooner secured a way to end my life swiftly, as with a gun or fast-working anesthetic, but my next immediate option was ensuring my survival, as well as that of my cat.
I could not believe that I didn’t get “out.” Prior to this, I only knew of evacuations happening exclusively *before* fire consumed an area. Propane tanks were blowing all around us like gun shots, although I never witnessed any explosions directly. My head swims as I type this. Fences and bushes burned where I used to take long walks. I could feel their heat through my window, and so I turned the air conditioner on, circulating only inside-air, and making sure not to burn too much fuel, turning it up, down, or off as necessary. I continued to pat my face with the washcloth. I wove in and out of vehicles, allowing some to pass me and pulling over where police and fire trucks were required to pass us. Embers and sparks crossed the road and caught the piles of fallen pine needles aflame.
I did not pass anything quickly; the traffic trapped us on that long and narrow road with ditches that would strand a car as small as mine keeping us on the road. I cuddled up uncomfortably close to the other vehicles around me, and made an effort to inch forward so as to put out any sparks or embers that might have landed on or near my tires. I prayed–keeping in mind that people who pray still die in fires–that I would, despite my doubts, be allowed to enter the True Paradise with my Father in Heaven.
I continued to monitor my cat and everything around me with intense vigilance, reassuring him verbally (as well as for my own sake), and taking long, timed yoga breaths. There were several points at which he howled at the blazing buildings next to us, and I covered his eyes. Embers and charcoal fell from the sky, and the wind was nearly blowing sideways. I was later informed that one of the night-black sequences was due to a pillar of flames funneling within a cloud of black smoke and dumping a very large spot fire onto Pearson. These embers caused spot fires all over the area, and the rapid jet stream just above the trees sent them far ahead of the burning core.
I often used my wipers to clear anything I could from my windshield. Shrubs and grass caught next to us, and I made sure to stay close to the middle of the road, keeping in mind that the opening to my gas tank was on my driver’s side. Every one of us in vehicles watched the burning and felt its heat, passing lighted structures and vehicles as quickly as we could without being the one stuck right next to anything on fire lest our tires pop. I witnessed this several times down the road, one of the most terrible being the open ambulance bursting with flames of many colors, which I was also forced to pass slowly. Despite all of these precautions, I also recognized that my life was far from being in my own hands, and that, statistically, anything, at any point, could go horribly wrong. I pulled out my phone and recorded an I-love-you message in the case that it survived, and placed it underneath the seat where it was least likely to melt.
[3] Corner Store
I continually whispered words of comfort to my cat as we passed in and out of the night-like shadow several times. I told myself that I could not afford to worry about the people behind me, nor my family. I was stressed about not being able to make my phone interview, but I swallowed that, too. At this point I had been checking my phone several times for signal, trying at every instance to reassure my family that I had made it a few feet forward. A pair of young men were outside the church taking pictures of burnt structures. This calmed my panic to an extent. I was now following a smart little black Kia occupied by a mother and her two children to Tony’s corner store on Pentz and Bille where firefighters were stationed. Everything continued to burn less than a hundred feet away from us on either side of the road, but nothing immediately within range was alight. A tree whistled and crackled as its base began to combust; it sounded similar to a firework. I assured my cat, who was now fixated on the roaring building to my left, that it would burn itself out. We had come to a complete halt for the next two hours.
I frequently checked my mirrors for burning tires and on-road hazards. My mellower senses returned to me. My stomach growled with hunger, but I wasn’t in the headspace to feel “hungry.” I avoided turning my car off or on until I was sure nothing around me would catch fire, using my water bottle to keep my wash cloth moist. At two separate points, I saw people leave their vehicles, and so I shoved my cat into the box again and prepared to leave. Each of them returned, and nobody else behind or around me seemed interested in leaving. My cat returned to his hiding place stuffed tightly under the passenger seat. Several times I nearly left my vehicle with him, and only him. I finally received just a bit of signal, wherein I found 13 voice messages from my mother. I managed to contact her, my dad, and my brother, who advised me to use either the right side of Skyway or to go down Neil. I called my mother; she told me to be aggressive and resourceful and frequently shouted at me to leave, despite my not being able to. I assured her that I would get out of the car and ride with someone else if it came to that. I lost signal several times during these attempts. She called again and I phrased my situation incorrectly, telling her that I was ‘stuck’ in a traffic jam to which she responded with panicked shouts of, “Get out of there!” She wasn’t aware that I had made it through the worst, for the time being. I eventually got it across to her that I was not far from the fighters with several other stalled (likely more experienced) vehicles. She told me to meet at Ross in Chico before we lost signal again, as ACE was now burning with the rest of the town.
The fighters continued to cut off the flames and poise the shafts of water toward the center of the block. I saw another great wall of flames consuming the trees opposite the road in the distance, hoping that the firefighters acknowledged it. Several officers with radios patrolled the road. I was grateful for their help in that moment. For another long period we waited until we were directed up the road toward Wagstaff, the fighters aiming their hoses at our tires as we passed them. I was relieved to be moving again, though still very tense. I accidentally released my wiper fluid, spreading ashen muck across my wind shield, and had to drive from this point barely able to see (although this was not much different from the effect the air was having on visibility up to that point).
[4] Parking Lot
I followed several vehicles to the defensible, treeless parking lot of KMart on Clark and Wagstaff. I got out of my car after I was designated a section with other vehicles. I noticed a few people standing along the curb of the parking lot facing my bank, as my car was also facing outward toward Clark. They had a radio, but I never ended up asking for a status update, having overheard the extent of their knowledge through my window. I boxed my cat, phone, keys, and water, and took them to the officer directing us, requesting information, and being directed to stay in my vehicle. Having left my long, black scarf in the car, I sustained a few blisters from flying embers across my cheeks. I placed my cat back in my car, looked around, and got back inside. After a while, I noticed other cars were beginning to leave, and another officer told us that I had a choice to go down Clark, which was now cleared of debris, or remain there. I chose to leave after several other cars had already gone.
[5] Downhill
I made my way out by myself, and the world was still pitch black or glowing red. Sparks continued to fly across the street; I abandoned all driving laws save those that would directly affect my safety. I saw lights in the distance and speedily caught up to two other cars that were ahead of me; better to drive in a group and ensure that someone else leads the way. Nearing the edge of town, the vehicle ahead of me stopped fast. I did not hit the brake in time and mildly crumpled my license plate against his bumper, but his sustained no damage. Jack remained wedged between my seat and laundry basket full of clothes, his head completely buried, muffling his distressed meows. The vehicle ahead of me caught a telephone wire and we had to stop. An officer pulled up alongside us, perhaps to ensure that our group didn’t cause a blockade. After it was released, we dodged rocks as we moved toward Butte College. We passed two fire trucks on our way down, and I began to see more vehicles around us. There were no tears from me until this point, and even then, they were minimal.
[6] Out From Under
The sky was still dark but at this point nothing was burning. We passed two freed goats who headed in the direction the cars were headed; I considered taking them with me but realized that my car was too small, and that my cat might escape. We made our way into the light, somewhat out from under the canopy of smoke. The two vehicles ahead of me pulled over, and I emerged, shaking, asking the man from the vehicle ahead of me if I needed to exchange numbers, and being asked if I was okay and if I had a place to go. I was reassured that no damage was done, and that nothing was required. The lady in the frontmost vehicle took both of us in her arms and held us, sobbing, and declaring her relief at being free of that nightmare. They told me to follow them until I knew where I was going. I covered my face as I began to actually cry at that point. I got back in my car and continued to reassure my cat. I was not able to get to Chico to meet my family, as every exit from Oroville off of Clark/99 was closed, and so my mother met me at a Nazarine church evacuation center along the edge of the city by around 2:00pm. We met up with Darren and traveled together to a hotel my father secured, but upon helping me to rid my windshield of the muck, he found that my taillight and some of the metal around it had been melted. I was told that the fire spread so rapidly that a proper warning was not issued in time. On Edgewood, not a few streets behind where I was, I learned that five people had died in their vehicles. More deaths have been confirmed since then. Our house and left-behind belongings are gone. We’ve secured a rent-free fixer-upper home in Marysville for the next several months, and much financial and supplemental support from friends and loved ones has been provided. Everyone I know is safe.



52 Mondays of Music has donated $1,000 ($47,000 total so far in 2018)

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