The only way out of Paradise

The day that ruined me and my children’s lives. On the day of November 8th 2018 was the day that changed everything. That morning I woke up at 6 a.m. to get up and get ready for work. After getting ready for work I woke my kids up to get ready for school. As they’re waking up they told me they don’t feel good can we please stay home. So I decided to take the day off work and just relax with my kids. I actually work at their school so it wasn’t a big deal. Thank God I did take the day off because what was going to happen next was going to change our lives for good. I couldn’t imagine wondering where my kids were with all the chaos that happened. To all the people that sent their kids to school that day, I can only imagine how you felt not knowing where your child was while the whole town was burning down.

So anyways back to my story. It’s around 7 a.m. in the morning and my daughter says mom come look outside. So I go to the sliding glass doors of our apartment and see nothing but smoke at that moment the sky started to turn dark. I knew there was a fire in the town but I didn’t think it was that bad. Five minutes later my mom calls from her home in Magalia and says you guys need to get out now. I get off the phone with her and start packing a bag of clothes for me and my kids. I mainly grab them clothes. We didn’t grab anything else we didn’t think the town was going to burn down. Not even 10 minutes after that I started hearing propane tanks blowing up. That’s when I said kids we got to go now.

I got the kids in the car and started to pull out of shelter cove parking lot it took me 20 minutes just to pull out onto the road. There were cars everywhere, police officers, people walking down the road, and  firefighters.all you could hear was sirens and loud noise. Every 5 minutes felt like an hour, cars weren’t budging there was just too much traffic in the town. About 30 minutes went by and we only moved like 50 feet. At this point I’m trying to call everyone I know to see if they’re all right and if they’re making it out of here. My mom’s not answering the phone. So I have no idea what’s going on with her are my stepdad. My kids are crying at this point because the am/pm gas station is on fire and we can’t move at all. We don’t know if it’s going to blow up like in the movies. As we keep going very slowly there’s spot fires everywhere and not enough firefighters to even put them out. We finally hit Person road to go towards skyway because that’s the only way they let us go. We were in the wrong lane to head towards Oroville. Pearson road was not too bad it was still dark and smokey. But traffic was moving faster. It still took us an hour to get to skyway. We finally thought we were getting ready to head out of Paradise to Chico but we didn’t realize all the skyway was already in flames. All I could think at that moment is we’re going to die and they sent us right into the inferno. Buildings, trees and houses are in flames around us and my kids are bawling their eyes out saying “Mom are we going to make it?”. I said I’m not sure you guys I love you so much, we might not make it. I told them at that moment let’s just pray to God. So me and my kids are in this smokey car we can’t see a foot in front of us. There’s just too much smoke all we could see is the flames around us. As we sit there and cry together and tell each other how much we love each other. I’m trying to be strong and make it out.

I got random cars stopping in front of me some people jumping out trying to run. At one point I have a car in front of me and I thought people were in it and we just weren’t moving. Until cars started going around it so I did too. There was no one in the car in the middle of the highway. I’m going as fast as I can go I’m trying not to get in an accident because there’s just too much going on. At that moment there we’re embers going across the street I thought for sure my tires were going to melt. You could feel the heat inside the car but there was nothing we could do but keep driving. We finally made it out of the flames and into Chico. As we got into Chico there were people everywhere. All these people including ourselves had no home and didn’t really know where to go at this point. The plan was before I left paradise was to meet at my brothers in Chico. It took forever to make it out of paradise and now I had to wonder if my mom and my dad made it to. Sitting there crying thinking they didn’t make it and no one’s answering their phones. I finally got ahold of my mom and she said she was going back to the house because she couldn’t get down the skyway. Plus she said my stepdad was trying to get up to her. He was working in Paradise at the time. Come to find out they wouldn’t even let him go try to get to my mom. They stopped all traffic going up to magalia.

Probably an hour after being in Chico my step dad finally made it out of there. And all we can think about is if my mom could get out or not. Me and my step dad and my brother were getting really scared mom’s not calling or answering her phone. It took 6 hours before I got a call from my mom saying she might run out of gas and she still on the back way out of magalia. There is no gas stations around. So my step dad tries to get in there and they won’t let him in. We just keep telling my mom just keep driving until you run out of gas. My step dad’s waiting at this point on the outskirts of Chico, where she will be coming into Chico with a can of gas just hoping she makes it to him. Mom finally made it thank the Lord. We all hug each other and just start crying together as a family. All we could think about is our homes making it. That night we all just sat by our cars and watch the flames in Paradise burn the town down. I will remember this day for the rest of my life it brings tears to my eyes just writing this today.

Now we all have to decide what to do. There’s so much smoke in Chico at this point I decide to go to my other brother’s house in Sacramento and wait out the fire. We all just hope and pray there’s something left for us to go home to. As I get to Sacramento there’s nothing but smoke down there to. There is no escaping the smoke. I had just the clothes on my back and a few clothes for my kids. Good thing the thrift stores in Sacramento gave up $30 in clothing a piece for me and my kids. I stayed at my brother’s for 2 weeks just watching the news and crying. It took forever before they finally opened up paradise. But what was the point? There was nothing left, the town was gone, our homes were gone, our lives we’re gone. So now what do we all do. The school still paid me for a few months after the fire, even though I was not working. At least someone cared. And living in motels isn’t cheap. Every hotel in Chico was booked up for months. In one month I moved into 6 different hotels clear down to Roseville. In the past 6 months I have been into at least 15 different hotels with two kids. Until FEMA finally got me a travel trailer to stay in on the lake. But they had rules you had to fill out applications to rent a place and you had to have so many a month. What do they expect from us. We have nothing and no jobs and there’s nowhere to rent because the only rentals available are gone. So at this point I decided it’s time to move away.

So here I find myself in Washington with no family around. And life is still hard. But I’m working on it. I finally found a job, I got a travel trailer I made it work but yes we are still struggling and we might be for a while but will be okay. Me and my kids miss our lives but there’s nothing we can do about it. We miss our family, we miss our friends, we miss our home, and we miss our stuff. I still haven’t went to counseling like my mom said I should but I think I might need it. Because I find myself crying over the littlest things. We our strong, I just keep telling myself at least we’re alive.

Author: Vanessa Deherrera