It's a surreal feeling. Something that I would have never thought that I would have to experience. An era of my life forever tarnished by the events of a few hours that lingered on for days.
On November 8, 2018, I woke up with no other thought in my mind than "Here's another day." Yes, this was the day of the monthly inspections for my apartments, and I wanted to make sure everything was up to par with their specific instructions: all broken blinds needed to be replaced, and all fire alarms needed to have new batteries. 'Check and check,' minus the one new battery I needed for the bedroom alarm.
I got in my car headed to work when I got a text from a close friend along with a picture. "Looks like there's a fire close to Paradise" was the message probably not in those words, but close to. The photo pictured a coffee shop, and far off in the distance the billowing clouds of gray smoke.
I replied with "I wonder if you are going to have to get evacuated?" There were many times that a small grass fire would force the town of Paradise, California population 26,682 into a frenzy, force people away from their homes for an hour, or at the very least require them to wear flat fold protective masks. It didn't scare me. It was normal.
My family and I moved into our house in the mid-90s. I was eight years old. It was a barn red house at the time. I remember thinking it was so cool to live there. There were so many trees around it felt like I lived in a forest. I attended Ponderosa Elementary, Home of the Tigers. I attended the local LDS church from 1997 until I graduated from Paradise High School in 2005.
In the ten years, I called Paradise my home, in every step that I took on my daily walks around town, just to get out and exercise, I met so many great people. People I still keep in touch with today. I learned how to write during writer's workshop in my English class in seventh grade. My core values started in Paradise, it was my foundation.
I moved away after high school to the Midwest. I grew into an adult there, but I was a child in Paradise, and that's where my heart always stayed.
Later on that day I was sitting at my desk at work, and got a Facebook update from an old classmate. "Not what I wanted to see when I walked out the door to take the kids to school."
The Last Time I Saw Paradise as a Whole
It was the beginning of the end of an era. What followed were numerous post, videos, and tweets. It wasn't until the familiar places were on fire that it dawned on me, Paradise was at a loss, and all I could do was watch...
I jumped on my phone as fast as I could. I needed to ease my mind. I needed to know that my family was safe. I couldn't even think. My mind was basically unconscious. No dial tone. No answer. Nothing. I sent a text out to my father who still lived in our house: "Did you have to evacuate?" I didn't know if that section of town had to leave yet. My childhood home, in the middle of town, up the street from the pink Candy Store.
Hours went by, I finally received the answer I was looking for. "Yes, we got evacuated, we are safe."
Black smoke filled the morning sky, turning day into night. A fiery blaze fighting the dark. It was a vision of Hell. I was in shock. I was in disbelief, this wasn't home. It couldn't be home... Then it happened. The last picture I saw before the aftermath. The last nail in the coffin. A picture of the town sign, taken over by an inferno of disgustingly fast momentum.
Descending From a Personal Hell
The next couple of days consisted of an agonizing wait. What was left of my hometown, our town? The fire kept burning, the updates kept creeping in. No solid answers. The cloud of smoke kept everyone in the dark. What did this fire steal from us in the early morning, and into the night? Could anything be saved? Was there anything left?
Then it happened again; the questioning: was this even real? How did it start? Why did it start? Who was to blame? My house, was it still there? Tell me! someone! I need to know! I don't want to know... there's still hope right?
I tried for days to get my answers. From every source, I could possibly think of. Everyone that I talked to was as lost as I was. They themselves looked for answers. Paradise was blocked off, and no one was being let in. It was a waiting game. I sent one final text to the owner of the candy shop down the street. They replied. "We haven't been given solid info, but it looks unlikely our store is still there."
A Burning Blaze of Destruction
Landmarks of Ash and Rubble
There were so many unanswered questions whirling around in my brain, and in my heart. It then came to me in the form of a 40-second video. A deserted street, trees were broken and black. Wires lying in the street like giant snakes crawling from one side of the road to another. A light foggy mist danced around empty lots decorated with the same two colors, black and gray. Skeletons of what was once family vehicles, sheds, and houses.
In the last ten seconds a few hundred yards away. It was there. My memory. Ten years of laughter, love, anger, hate, lessons, homework, birthdays, playing, praying, video games. My home. Erased.
I walked slowly into the kitchen, sick to my stomach, eyes aching. the adult me trying to keep my composure. The child in me screaming from the top of my lungs.
"It's gone," I whispered. My wife turned from the stove where she was cooking dinner.
I looked at her for a moment, and repeated myself as I gazed down at the floor.
It overcame me in a matter of seconds, it must have been saying it out loud that made it real. I then broke. I screamed in the middle of the hardest cry that had ever been made within me. "It's like we never existed!" falling to the floor I curled up in a fetal position, and cried 'till I couldn't cry anymore.
Graveyard of Grief
Little boxes on the Hillside, Little boxes all the same.
Delusional and Displaced
Life Since the Wildfire
With the six month anniversary drawing near, there has been so much that has changed. So many blessings arose from the ashes of what was once home. The good samaritans came out of the woodwork. My family were fortunate to have friends and family to stay with while looking for more solid living conditions. I can't stress enough how blessed I feel that they made it out that day. They are now living in an apartment in a neighboring town, while waiting for future plans.
At least 88 people were killed and three firefighters were injured by what was named the Camp Fire.
It was faster than they expected, and it took 10,321 structures.
All these statistics made "The Camp Fire" the deadliest, and most destructive fire in California history.
The news came in a few weeks ago. The water in Paradise had become a toxic cocktail making the water undrinkable and deadly. Which in turn means those who were planning on rebuilding their homes are forced to look for another place to call home. My family included.
I have not been the same since the fire. My desire for material things have diminished to almost nothing. I have become less social, and put up barriers that I have been trying to climb over. I feel like I have nothing to talk about, and at the same time so much. I wrote this to help me sift through the ashes of what was once my home, though I am thousands of miles away.
The town was paper, the memories were not.