You wake up. You eat your breakfast, read some news. Time comes to take your dog for a walk. You leash him up and march out on a nice cool, sunny morning, down a winding hilly road of native pines and shrubs. You pass a neighbor walking her dog and stop to chat. You both notice a large plume of dense, black smoke. “That looks ominous,” the neighbor says.
You head back home. The plume is growing. You check the fire information web site but see nothing, no warnings. Nonetheless, the smoke starts looking hellish, enormous, billowing upward and outward like a sulfurous mushroom cloud. Black ash falls from the sky like filthy snow. Distant explosions shake the ground, like small bombs going off—propane storage tanks exploding in the near distance. Pieces of burned wood the size of golf balls fall all around you.
The sky itself is screaming danger. You throw clothes in a suitcase, grab the box of papers, phones, chargers, dog food, wallet, glasses, computers, backup discs, cat carrier. Someone hooks up the horse trailer and you pray those big animals don’t sense your panic and balk at walking in the trailer as the black plume blots out the sun and swallows more and more of the sky, black rain falling down, explosions creeping closer.
The whole town is burning down.
As we drove out, more and more were speeding back into town, having heard of the fire and desperate to save loved ones or belongings. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, the black smoke had turned day into midnight. It looked like hell had swallowed the hills on which we lived.
We had it easy. We got out early. So many were trapped in cars beneath a black sky in the middle of the day as fire swirled around them, eating everything in its path, propelled by 50 mph winds.
We were lucky. This article from the LA Times gives a glimpse of what many others in the small town of Paradise, California endured on November 8th as their town burned to the ground. The fire moved with alarming speed, growing from a spark to consuming tens of thousands of structures within three hours. It’s a wonder so many survived. It’s a horror that so many died and lost everything.
– Leonce Gaiter, Vice President