California Fire - Stories

Thank you all for sharing your stories with us. 
Here are some of the most recent stories...

This is a photo of Teresa & Michael, a super sweet, lovely couple in their early sixties. Michael is the manager of a machine shop and Teresa has been a special needs teacher her entire career and her school is now ashes. 

This is a photo of them escaping the fire. Their car is the one in the back.

Teresa and Michael lost EVERYTHING in the fire last week... their home, cars, cat and personal treasures. They also have 17 friends that have lost their homes. PLEASE help us reach out to as many as possible.

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Mr. Julian Gonzales and Family
Julian is just about the most dedicated man I know.  He is the custodian at McManus.  His wife is a nurse and has been working around the clock since the fire began, helping folks that were evacuated from a nursing home in Paradise (that was owned by our old McManus principal) even though she lost her home.  In fact, she is the only full time employee helping to relocate residents. Their daughter, Ariana, is a McManus alum, and was on my Girls on the Run team, twice.  They also have an adult son.  The family was scattered about the county at work and school before the evacuation was ordered, and all safely reunited in Chico. They have confirmation that their house was destroyed.  
Andy and Lindsey Canales
Andy teaches 5th grade at McManus, Lindsey is an adaptive PE teacher throughout Chico Unified and also works with McManus students.  Andy was already in Chico and Lindsay was fortunately still in Paradise and able to return home and get their dog Sarge, and one of Andy’s favorite Dodgers hats.  They have confirmation that their house was destroyed.                   
Sandee and Brian
They all foster dogs for an organization called Wags and Whiskers. Instead of dogs living at a shelter, Wags and Whiskers places pets with with foster families.  Sandee and Brian live in Magalia, just north of Paradise, and while their home is not burned, yet, they believe they will be the only family members with a house to return to. Brian’s mom Beverly left home without a cell phone, and did not know where her son ended up. They reunited in Corning.  They have not received confirmation either way about the status of her home. Several family members have lost their homes.
                           Vaughn and Emily Parsons 
They have a 12 year old son with special needs and two young daughters. While Emily evacuated quickly with the kids and animals, Vaughn was able to stay longer with two friends that were also living on their property and pack up items that would help him continue working from home, whenever and wherever they land again.  He was watching the flames as they approached his property.  Vaughn and his two friends have been staying with us as they begin to navigate the next chapter of their lives.  For now, Emily is further away from the smoke with their three children. Vaughn will be back and forth. They have confirmation that their house was destroyed.

Ellen and Ryan Johnson

Ryan is a teacher out of the area, Ellen worked for Youth for Change in Paradise. If you can handle it, you can read her heart wrenching evacuation story.  All three of them safely evacuated.  They have confirmation that their house was destroyed.
(Here is their story originally Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Katie Geleff)

California woman wondered if she was going to die as she fled fire with baby

Ellen VandenBerg with her 5-month-old son Knox, dog and husband Ryan Johnson. VandenBerg and her son were forced to flee their home in Paradise, Calif. (Submitted by Ellen VandenBerg )

Ellen VandenBerg didn't know if she was going to make it out of Paradise, Calif., alive with her five-month-old son on Thursday as she fled a wildfire. "At one point I thought: 'Should I be pouring water on my son? Are we going to die in our car?'" VandenBerg told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Vandenberg was fleeing the Camp Fire — a devastating blaze that officials say has destroyed the majority of the northern California town of almost 30,000 residents.  It was one of three major blazes burning across California Friday that officials were concerned about. At least five people have been found dead in their scorched cars, according to The Associated Press.

Grabbed her baby and fled 

VandenBerg was at home waiting for her husband Ryan Johnson as the sky darkened and ash started falling from above. She realized at that moment that she had to flee.  She gathered important documents, her cat and dog, clothes, a diaper bag and her son Knox, then jumped in the car.  "As soon as I turned onto my street, out of my little side street, I was stuck in traffic," she said. VandenBerg estimates it took her three hours to travel only 24 km.
Fueled by high winds and low humidity, the rapidly spreading wildfire has ripped through the town of Paradise, charring 18,000 acres and destroying dozens of homes in a matter of hours. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

'Just go and run'

During all of this, VandenBerg had to take care of her baby alone.  When Knox woke up, she was able to put her car in park and breastfeed him. She spent the rest of the slow journey, with smoke billowing around them, with Knox on her lap.  "I just kept him with me because I actually thought that I was going to have to get out and run," she said. The one thing keeping her calm was talking to her husband, who was meeting them in the nearby town of Chico, on the phone. Then the cell service went out. "I was just trying to stay calm, really. I took a couple of videos of myself just to kind of have something to talk to and just tell my loved ones that I love them," she said.
Emergency personnel evacuate patients as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)
The ominous smoke eventually turned to flames.  "I saw flames on one side of me at one point, and the other side at one point, and it really did feel like we were being engulfed. And we were just all sitting ducks. I mean, it was just terrifying," she said. Officials opened up both sides of the skyway to allow cars to get out. "I just took off and had nobody in front of me, and I did way over the speed limit I'm sure, but I made it down to Chico," she said.

'My house is gone'

In Chico, VandenBerg reunited with her husband. They are now staying with his family in Rocklin and trying to come to terms with everything they lost. "My house is gone," she said.

Flames consume a building as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)
She also can't stop thinking about whether all the people on the highway with her escaped. "I just wonder how many people didn't make it, and how many older folks and people with children in their cars didn't make it," she said. What gives her hope is the firefighters who were rushing toward the fire.  "I'm just so grateful for them," she said.
Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Katie Geleff.

2017 Fires
The Walker Family
On Sunday, October 9, 2017, Melissa and her family went to bed just like any other night. She and her husband, Martwann, got the kids prepared for school the next day, lunches made, clothes out for was another routine Sunday night at the Walker house. In the middle of the night, Melissa was restless and she could smell smoke. She didn't think too much about it since the news said there could be wildfires and it was extremely windy. She figured there was a fire in the hills somewhere far away and they could smell it. As Melissa said, “I have never been so wrong in my life.”

Her phone rang about 1:30 in the morning, and it was her stepson’s mom, who lives nearby in Larkfield across the freeway. She said she was being evacuated and suggested they start packing right away. They went into flight mode, grabbed a couple suitcases, and started packing. Their son Jason, who just turned 18, was up and they told him to start packing. They woke up their 12-year-old daughter, Ayalani, and told her to pack as well. Melissa was frantic and wasn't sure what to grab, but she was trying to think clearly. She got a few days of clothes for everyone, toothbrushes, and some food and water. She then grabbed the photo albums and the older kids helped her grab pictures off the walls and shelves. Then she woke up her 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son and got them in her husband’s truck. By this time, it was about 2am. The neighborhood was gridlocked with cars trying to get out. By 7 o’clock that morning they discovered their whole neighborhood had been burnt to the ground.

Melissa still can’t explain the deep devastation she feels for her children who have lost
everything. They lived there for 7 years and the neighborhood is now unrecognizable. Melissa and her husband grew up in Santa Rosa and want to stay close by. Her family is currently looking for a new place to live. They will need to replace everything and start over.

Adelina, Miranda and Angelica 

On the night of October 9th, Adelina and her 13-year-old daughter, Miranda, were forced to flee their Northern California house with no time to spare. They did not have enough time to save ANYTHING! They lost everything they own in the fire. Adelina and Miranda lost all of their clothes, their beds and Miranda’s laptop, which she needs for school.
Adelina is a single mom who was renting a room in a house in Santa Rosa, which was one of the first houses to burn down in the fire. She has no renter’s insurance and will have to start over again with nothing. This family could use some help right now! They are staying with a friend and are struggling for just the basics. It would be awesome if we could help to replace Miranda’s laptop, but their greatest need right now is for clothes and everyday hygiene supplies.
Their friend, Angelica, worked a full-time job in Santa Rosa. Sadly, her place of business has burned down and she is not able to pay rent or provide food for her family. She is currently looking for a job, and she is hard-working and dedicated, but with so many businesses gone in the area, jobs are not easy to find.

The Keller Family

Sheila Breen-Keller has sadly lost her home and all of the family's belongings in the devastating fires that ravaged through Napa and Santa Rosa areas on Monday, October 9th, 2017. They had little warning and almost no time to evacuate as the fire rapidly crossed over the freeway and into their neighborhood around 2am Monday morning.

They are blessed that Sheila, and her son Daniel, were home at the time of the fire. They were able to safely evacuate with their beloved dog & cats. However, they are now dealing with the loss of their home. Sheila's son and daughter, Katherine, have also lost all of their belongings aside from a few items of clothing. Sheila has been separated from her husband for some time now, but even he had his family heirlooms stored at the house as well as his Nikon camera. If there was one thing he could actually replace it would be his camera, in case someone has a connection to a new camera.

Sheila and her daughter had been recently collecting items for Katherine's baby girl that is due in February. Sadly, they lost those items in the fire as well. It was 27 years ago that the Keller family built their house together in a sweat equity program. They literally helped build the home that they lived in. They are currently living with friends.