That Thursday morning, I had the day off from my work at Paradise Post-Acute (formally known as Paradise Skilled Nursing). I was working there as Housekeeping and Laundry. I had intended of sleeping in and planed on unpacking more of my stuff. I just had moved into my co-worker’s place and was renting their living room. I had previously lost my place of living and ended up owing lots of money. It was such a perfect situation for myself. $200 a month for a place with utilities, with my job and my current bill at that time I was doing well and be able to pay what I owe, still be able to travel to all the places around in town that I needed to attend too without much of trouble. That had all changed within less than 30 minutes on that particular morning.
I woke up by my roommates (married couple with 2 kids) getting ready to leave for their school and work. About 6:30 am everyone had left. I got up and made some coffee and I always like to have a cigarette with my coffee out on the balcony. At that day I was rolling my cigarette. I’m sitting outside and I noticed the sky being really dark more than usual, also since it was a big apartment complex people outside were running around like never seen before. At that point I thought it was going to be a different day, but I didn’t think it was anything to worry about. My girlfriend Kim who lived like a couple blocks down from me (10-minute walk down the bike path) was texting me. She already had gone to work in Chico. The text was asking me if I have heard about the fire. I went and to my CalFire app on my phone and at that time it showed me a 10-acre fire way over at a place I have never even heard of Pulga. I text her back saying that all I know is about that fire way over there and I didn’t think we had anything to worry about. At that same time, I started to notice something dropping on the leaves of the trees surrounding. I thought it was finally raining. Kim texted me asking me if she should come back because she heard about how paradise is getting evacuated. I text her back saying that we have nothing to worry about and its starting to rain as well. I went back inside to get on my desktop computer and started to play on a game I had been playing for a while to just get further into my game.
Cristopher my roommate just came back to the apartment from dropping his wife and kids off. I’m sitting on my computer just about getting my game loaded and he is turning on the oven to make some breakfast for himself. He asked me if I have heard about the fire. I asked in return why everyone is talking about this fire. I just had looked it up on the CalFire app and it’s just a small 10-acre fire way over by Concow. He was kind of mystified by that. About 7:30 am he got a text from his wife saying that she is getting evacuated where she is at on Pents Rd. He told me that and he’s leaving to pick her and the kids up. Left the oven on and grabbed his stuff as he had said the hopes to see me later. I was starting to stress than and I wanted to see for myself what’s going on. I got some more coffee and went back out on the balcony to smoke another cigarette and as I did that Kim was texting me that she is on her way back and asked me to check on her son Nathan who was at her apartment. He still was sleeping, and Kim was not able to get a hold of him.
The apartment complex I was staying at was right next to the Paradise High School. The loudspeakers there were loud and clearly saying: “Every student is to report to the cafeteria as soon as possible and other students of the surrounding schools are also to report to the cafeteria!” My thought was that the whole town is being evacuated and by that moment I looked around and noticed that my previous thought about the rain hitting leaves was false and was not rain. It was thick chunks of ash. I looked all over and saw that was all ash! I really was freaking out at that point. So many thoughts were going through my mind. I was worried about my own daughter who was in Magalia and was at her middle school at that point, Kim who was trying to get back to her son and about her son being home alone. I text Kim back saying to just get back here as soon as possible. The school next to me just confirmed the town is getting evacuated. She called me and told me she is trying to get back into town and I was able to tell that she is a very frantic state of mind. It was very difficult for her to get back up the hill to Paradise from Chico. Traffic everywhere was jammed and backed up. She asked me to get over to her apartment to get her son and If she could not make it up to just get the keys for her Ford Taurus than drive with her son to safety out of town.
I went and grabbed my backpack that had just very important paperwork and some other little things in it. Put on my shoes and I thought about grabbing my immigration paperwork I had locked up in my safe and some clothes, but I didn’t because it didn’t seem like there was enough time. Took my cellphone, keys and wallet. Went to turn off my computer and I turned off the oven that my roommate had left on, thinking that be the one thing I should do and went out the door even locked it up. I ran across the yard to get to bike path. I was running towards Kim’s apartment and got to Elliot Rd. as I was trying to get across, I had to stop. Traffic was blocking me and thankfully as the cars were stopping a utility truck of some sort had stopped for me at the cross walk and let me cross but still had to look out for the cars on the other lane to clear to cross. Finally got to Kim’s apartment after running through this gloomy air with ashes pilling up on my backpack and on my hat, I was wearing. I got to her stairway and I saw her son standing on the porch being on the phone. I think he was talking to his dad or his brother, crying and saying he wanted to his mommy and being very frantic himself. He has autism so it’s very intense for him at this point. I went up to him and told him that everything will be ok, and his mother is on her way, should be here any moment now. I was able to get him to calm down and get him to get whatever he needed packed up and ready to go.
It’s very dark and seemingly an apocalypse like setting at that moment. The neighbors are yelling and being frantic to get their cars packed up. They are too having a bad time and their cat got out, so they were trying to get their cat back, witch at that moment I was on the phone with Kim, she told me that she is trying to get the apartment but police are blocking Pearson Rd. and making everyone turn around. She put the phone down and just turned down Pearson Rd. I went to make sure her son was ready, and I texted my boss to see what was going and he told me I need to come there because they needed help to get all the residents moved out. I told him I can’t because I have to worry about my own family and help them to get out. I also called some other places saying I am not able to come in today due to the fact that the entire town of Paradise is getting evacuated. At that point Kim was able to get to her apartment. She quickly went up and ensured that her son and I were ready to go. We were all in her bedroom as Kim was trying to grab her bag with some important things for her and her son. She had asked me if she should grab some clothes. I had said that she probably should grab whatever she can, her reply was to just go, that everything will still be here tomorrow. I said yea this is all just precautionary evacuations. They will make sure the town won’t get burned down. We all left and got in her car and I had asked her before we head out of here could we go back to my place so I can grab some important documents. Kim had looked at me and said no we are leaving here right now and If I wanted to get back to my place, she could drop me off and she’d be on her way out of here without me. If I wanted to get out of here, I would need to stay with them because she is not going back to my place. I was later on very thankful she had done so. We are now on our way down skyway.
As we are all trying to leave town we are stop and go on Pearson and could hear all kinds ruckus and loud booms. Everyone is honking and trying to leave out to Skyway. The Sheriff was guiding the traffic at the intersection of Skyway and Pearson. Finally, we got out to Skyway and the southbound lane of Skyway was going very slowly maybe like a foot in 5 second or longer. We get about halfway down and I looked around and saw they opened the northbound lanes for everyone to go southbound down. I kept checking my cellphone to see about any notifications or any emergency warnings. Just plain nothing, also I kept checking the CalFire App, which kept saying the same thing. As I have found out months later the Fire was right about at our tail when we were trying to get down Skyway at that time. It’s still very dark and it looked like it was snowing but it was all ash falling down. I was getting very worried about my daughter who I was not sure of what was going on with her. I called her grandfather who was taking care of her when her mother was working. He had reassured me that my daughter is safe and is with her mother. So, 4 or 5 hours later we get into Chico and stopped at the very first gas station. Kim and I were needing some coffee and something to eat and we were all inside the gas station shop. I told her that I was very unsure about what is going to happen and that we need to stick together because I felt like I was about to lose my own self sanity. There was so much going through my head. I had a very hard time to keep myself together. I wanted to just feel numb and drink, to just forget about everything. I am a recovery alcoholic, and thanks to my girlfriend and now fiancé she was able to help me through of not getting myself lost and able to stay sober.
We were standing in the parking lot wondering what the next move is. Should we stay here and wait it out or should we figure out where we should spend the night? The anxiety of the unknowing was getting intense and people kept coming and leaving trying to figure out the same thing and all being very frantic. Lots of sirens everywhere with the air being smoky and still dark but a little sun coming through. Just was a very strange feeling because it just had been dark as night, so everything was thrown off. It was about 12:30 pm and trying to gather my thoughts and just trying to take this so unreal reality into actuality, this is actually happening! Kim and I looked at everything and looking at each other with this empty feeling of a major disaster accruing that we and thousand of people would never have spend one second to ever think that the whole town plus most of the region would ever burn down so quick. I can remember the thoughts I had to trying to reason this horrible situation. Looking all around this apocalyptic scene and all the commotion going on. Helicopters, airplanes, official government vehicles and this all for the worse fear of all fears settling in, all at the same time. I was hopeful for the fire crew and knowing they are doing the best they can, hearing that there are fire crews coming here from all over the state and other states as well. This fire just was too big and too fast in order to gain control over it. What kind of nightmare it has become? No one knew and no one thought everything that everyone had (except for those who were fortunate enough they didn’t loose their place) would be gone forever. I didn’t care about items I had or cloths, all the material things would be replaced eventually but there were things that I and many people have lost that simply can not and will not ever be replaced. Family pictures and the very sentimental things that could never be priced or even redone in any way.
Kim, her son Nathan and I just went to a park in Chico and tried to just let our hope help us getting through this. Nathan was seemingly doing ok; Kim and I were just trying to stay calm and she contacted her oldest son Chris. He was at this time at Butte collage and also getting evacuated. He had been trying to leave and his normal way on highway 99 was also blocked and had to drive all the way around through Oroville and Gridley to just get into Chico to his apartment at California Park in Chico. We were going to stay with him until we knew more of what we should do. We were waiting for him to get to his apartment, but he had been struggling to get through this very slow-moving traffic. I think he ended up also getting a flat tire on this car. It took him about 5 or 6 hours to just get back and he told us we could go his girlfriend apartment who was pretty much across from his apartment. So, we all went there and just hung out with his girlfriend as she was in progress of setting up an air mattress we could sleep on. It was about 7 pm or so. It was all dark by the night now. He finally gets back and we eventually went to his apartment and were there for like maybe an hour till we somehow got aware of that they are placing an evacuation order at California Park. Kim and I thought was this ever going to end? So, all of us are getting back in our cars and trying to figure out where to go next?!? Everyone around us is trying to flee and running around and more commotion over and over again. Stress building up and more of unknowing.
Luckily, Kim’s friend Annie was able to help us to stay at her apartment. It was in downtown Chico. Kim’s car needed gas and drove to her place hoping to stop by a gas-station. All the once we drove to were either so full and pack by other cars and trucks there was no way to get in or the gas-station was shutdown because they ran out of gas. It was driving us mad and stressing us out so badly, Chris as well (although he was managing all this a lot better than me and Kim) but he was also in need of getting gas for his car and was having the same problem. Finally, we get to some gas-station and one of the attended was guiding everyone at the few pumps they had available. That was amazing and were able to get our gas tank filled and drove to Annie’s apartment. Chris was able to get gas for himself as well and showed up, there at Annie’s as well a little later. It was late and we all were just exhausted and just done with that Thursday. Chris and Nathan were able to sleep on the couch and for me and Kim we got to sleep on a twin bunk bed of Annie’s daughter. It was good enough for us but me and Kim could not get to sleep very well. Eventually Kim fell asleep, but I was not able too even with taking some sleeping aids. My mind was not letting me, and I had just been just lying next to Kim. Everything from that day going through my mind and still trying to rationalize, reasoning and taking it into acceptance yet fearing all the loss and my life. Just as I was trying to rebuild my life again from having almost lost everything… I still had it at least set up to where I could rebuild my life again but would make it a better start. I just had it all set up for just having that moment of clarity and making better choices to make it a better future and to be a good father and to be a good husband. All just wiped out and now back at square one!!!