With modern technology, it has been easy to remain connected to our friends and family back home. This has been a blessing as the hardest part of moving to China was leaving our loved ones behind. This week, however, that connectedness has taken its toll on us emotionally.
Friday morning I woke to messages that Paradise, Ca was on fire. Paradise is just 12 miles from our home in Chico and is where I worked for 5 years. On Facebook, my newsfeed was filled with updates about the fire and the horrific accounts of friends and former co-workers who were forced to flee the fire with students piled into their cars. The stories and images were gut-wrenching.
Paradise is a small town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Because of its location, there are really only 2 ways out of the town. The hot, dry, and windy weather the valley was experiencing created the perfect storm and the fire descended on the town of Paradise without much warning. The schools, along with the rest of the town, were quickly evacuated.
Teachers were told by sheriff’s deputies to take as many students in their vehicles as possible and get to Chico. Driving down the one road that led them to safety, they faced traffic congestion, thick smoke, and active flames. The 20 minute drive I’ve done so often took 2-4 hours for some of the people fleeing the fire. The images I’ve seen of vehicles abandoned along the roadway give me a sense of the panic those fleeing for their lives must have felt.
Fortunately, everyone I know made it to safety. Unfortunately, many of them lost their homes and all of their belongings.
As the fire continued to ravage the area, the city of Chico became threatened as well. Our home is located on the south-east side of Chico and later that evening our neighborhood was evacuated. Brad’s mom, sister, and brother-in-law took the cats and a few belongings with them and spent the night at a friend’s house outside of the danger zone. From the other side of the world, we kept an anxious watch on social media to see how things developed.
When I went to bed on Friday night, I fully expected to wake up Saturday morning to news that our neighborhood was gone. Thankfully, the firefighters and a change in wind direction meant that our neighborhood and the city of Chico have so far been spared.
For the people of Paradise, the news was not so good. Being so far from home, it’s hard to feel anything but helpless as you learn of the utter devastation the fire caused. More than 6,500 structures were destroyed in the fire and 29 people have died. The entire town has basically been wiped off the map.
The latest updates show the community of Berry Creek (where our cabin filled with all the sentimental belongings we didn’t bring to China is located) is being threatened by the fire. The fire has not reached the community yet, but with dangerous winds and extreme fire behavior, I’m not feeling too optimistic at the moment.
For us, the material belongings that are threatened are not all that important, but the connection we feel to the people in the affected communities is what makes this so difficult. Where do you go when you lose everything?
I wish there was more I could do, but for now, we’ll continue to watch and wait and send all our love to the people impacted by the fire.