13870 ANDOVER DRIVE
On Thursday the 8th, I awoke like every morning; at precisely 0630 when Allie, my toddler called down the stairs, “Daddy! Waaake Uppp!” I called back up the stairs and asked her what she was doing? At the same time, I ignored an automated call from the school district; Paradise Elementary, on the other side of town was looking for a substitute. I thought about it, thinking I could go to work and then drive to school in Rancho Cordova, but I still had a few minutes before I needed to log onto AESOP and decide whether our need for money outweighed my need to get some school work done.
I went to the stairs to catch my daughter who was waiting to leap out Superfly Snooka style into my arms often eight to ten steps below…it was a sight that might raise the eyebrows of CPS, and result in a smack upside the back of my head from her mom.
Allie and I turned on Paw Patrol and I started some coffee and a bottle of warm milk. For a moment we chilled out drinking our respective coffee and milk, watching the Paw Patrol character, Rocky gets kidnapped by a big monkey named Big Hairy. My wife, Alec who often sleeps in Allies room, came downstairs and Allie ran to her, “Mommmmy, I love you.” (Allie is very affectionate). Alec asked what I gave her (Allie) to eat. “Nothing yet, just milk,” I responded while getting the hint that I needed to feed my daughter actual food. I looked through the kitchen and decided bacon, eggs, and rice would suffice. I got out the bacon and cut off most of the fat and it into pieces that would better fit the frying pan. Allie, like most toddlers, is finicky and despite the hypocrisy associated with my love of pigs, Allie will eat bacon and so I will occasionally buy it for her.
Alec washed her face and started a load of clothes but came out and asked if I could open the door as the fan above the stove wasn’t preventing the smoky bacon smell to make its way to her in the laundry room. She opened the front door leaving the security door bolted and I opened the door to the garage without opening the actual garage door. PG&E had sent warnings about the fire danger accompanying the high winds and the later point (high winds) left me concerned that yard debris would blow into our garage. I finished cooking and set Allie's meal down on the high chair, which she promptly ignored. Undaunted, I opened the garage door to get a feel for the temperature and survey how bad my yard looked after blowing leaves the day before. Walking out in my PJs, I looked up to see thick clouds of smoke billowing not terribly high above the house. Two fire trucks barreled by and I thought “these guys are awesome they will get that fire out,” but concerned and just in case I called Alec who was headed to the shower. “Honey there is a fire nearby, as soon as you get out pack Allies' clothes, as we may need to evacuate.” “Haughn? A fire?” “Yeah, I am going to check the CALFIRE website, but just in case…”
I went outside again; another fire engine flew by going down Skyway. I retrieved my ladder and set it up against the house and used it to climb onto the roof. I wanted a better look; it looked bad and traffic seemed far more busy than normal, even perhaps frantic. I posted the smoke I saw on Facebook and then I got on the CAL FIRE Fire map and saw that people were being evacuated about 10 to 15 miles away. I thought that was weird because despite being unable to see the flames, I would have guessed the fire was closer. Alec came downstairs and asked what I found out.
“I think we're okay, it is on the south side of Paradise right now and would have to burn the whole town down before it even got close, but just in case pack some of yours and Allie’s clothes.” “For how long?” “I have no idea, maybe a week to be safe.” “Whhhat? A week?” Alec is Thai, she doesn’t have a driver’s license for fear of the written exam and she pays very little attention to American news. In any case, evacuating for a week apparently seemed strange.
I decided I needed to look again from the roof and this time I brought my sprinkler, wetting down the roof but noticing bumper to bumper traffic and more yelling to “get out”. I turned off the water in went inside. The commotion at the nearby intersection could be heard through the house. People were yelling to other cars in colorful language that a fire was coming and to evacuate. Two cars stopped in front of our house and put on their horns. Alec and I walked out, and someone from one of the cars yelled, “There is a fire you need to get out now!” Again, I thought it was a bit premature, but decided that packing wasn’t also a premature idea. I told Alec I was going to quickly jump into the shower and then quickly pack.
As soon as I got out of the shower there was a pounding on the door. Fearing it was an evacuation order I answered it in my underwear. It was Dan, the neighbor across the street, he’s a big guy and fellow Veteran “Hey Kasey, I saw you watering the roof, but I have been listening to the scanner and there are two fires; one is right over the hill, we’re packing up and I think you better too.” We looked out and I could see Sharon across the street packing up her elderly mom and Daryl’s daughter next door also packing their car. Dan said he would go tell Kevin, our next-door neighbor, and knock on a few other doors. I thanked him and went back inside to get dressed. After dressing, I scooped up the unfolded pile of clothes still warm from the drier and dumped them into a suitcase. Alec handed me a big suitcase telling me it was mostly Allie's clothes, but she brought a couple of changes of clothes and asked to put them in the car’s trunk. Together we headed to the car, while she dropped an arm full of Allies shoes in the back seat, I put the suitcase with her and Allies clothes in the trunk. We were both keenly aware of the sounds of yelling, horns honking and tires burning rubber all around our home. We were quickly becoming more scared and Allie picked up on the fear, “Quickly mommy daddy go, go, go, I don’t like fire”, she began to cry. The doorbell sounded again.
Dan was there, “Hey I told the neighbors I could find, but I wanted to tell you Skyway isn’t moving down here, so try taking Wycliff. Do you know the way up Wycliff?” I gave him a hesitant affirmative and he continued. “You need to head toward DeSabla Lake and take a left at the next road, it’s a dirt road but it will take you to Hwy 32.” Just then a car came to a frantic stop in front of the house. “The fire is on both sides of Skyway at Old Magalia. Get out now!” That was about a quarter-mile away and Dan and I both gave the “Oh sh!T” look when another car came up Andover. The driver yelled out at us “Andover is on fire! I could see two houses on fire, down the street. Get out now!” I looked up to South Park Way and it was blocked with traffic. Dan said, “Good Luck” and we rushed back to our respective homes. I looked at Alec, “Grab Allie we are leaving right now! The fire is coming up Andover!” “Allie began to wail, “I don’t like fire, I don’t want to! I need my toys!” she grabbed a backpack full of little dollar store toys and I bolted her in the car seat and ran inside grabbing the open suitcase folding it closed, throwing it in the trunk, and backing out of the driveway.
Cars were lined up on South Park to get on Skyway and not moving so finding just enough space between cars I took a left on South Park and headed down the road; presumedly toward the fire, but seemingly the only way out. I was pretty sure I could connect to Wycliff that way. We drove about a mile as every car we saw was speeding past going in the opposite direction. Alec asked if I knew where I was going? I wanted to seem confident, but honestly, I had never driven down in this area and was not 100% certain I had made a good choice. I took a road that ran me back around up South Park and she said “Daahhdddddy??” in a questioning tone. I smiled at her and drove further down South Park. Somehow, I found my way to Creston and the name was familiar, I was pretty sure it also popped out further north on Skyway. I said, “I think I can take Creston”, moving up Creston we saw three cars turn on a street behind, I guessed it was a way out and turned around. I had missed the sign, it was Wycliff. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it very far before we were again in a line of cars likewise stopped and waiting to get on Skyway.
I called my mom in Marysville and my 17-year-old sister answered. “Julia, tell mom we are evacuating because of a fire and headed your way.” “Oh no! Okay. Come. Come. Don’t worry you’re always welcome.” I hung up watching a car speed past us on the windy road using the other lane. It was getting crazy but, after about 30 minutes we made it to Skyway, where again cars were stopped. A real hero in layman’s clothes yelled from across the street, “Use the turn lane these cars are waiting to get gas.” At the time I remember wondering “all these cars (maybe 50) are blocking the evacuation to get gas when Chico is only about 20 miles away? Either there is a lot of people who literally let their cars run on empty or their survival neurosis is kicking in, in a most selfish way.” My thoughts went to those parents who left their homes and pets, dropped their kids off at school in Magalia or Paradise, and commuted to work in the valley. How they must be trying desperately to get back to their children. I swallowed hard, thinking that I nearly left my daughter and wife, who doesn’t drive at home, while I went to work.
The turning lane disappeared, and we were again stopped on Skyway. We seemed to be moving a few cars every few minutes. “What is going on? Why are we stopped on a road without stop signs or lights?” I called out loud in frustration. Cars sped past us in the other lane and we heard screeching tires and the unmistakable crunching of auto collisions. I was getting angry, if some panicked jerk driving in the other lane caused an accident that was blocking traffic, I wanted to get my hands on them. 40 minutes went by while we sat in traffic. Finally, after traveling about a quarter mile we discovered that again people were again waiting to get gas at a second gas station, except this time there was no turn lane to get around the unprepared or selfish neurotic jerks that halted others path to safety. Frustrated, I yelled out loud, “Where is traffic enforcement? Where are the police, or fire department? Who is ensuring this sole route was clear?” This time Alec reminded me not to scare our already upset daughter. (I later spoke to Dan our neighbor who had likewise been stuck in the crawling caravan. He attempted to call 911 but found that 911 wasn’t answering any calls.) Two hours had passed while we waited for people getting gas and our nerves were frazzled, but as soon as we passed the last gas station traffic moved normally and we were able to make our way to the dirt road above the Lake.
We followed a caravan of fellow evacuees down the dust-filled heavily rutted road. The car in front of us had little clearance and I admit I worried they would bottom out and trap us, but despite the terrible sound of their undercarriage scraping over every bump, we finally made it to Hwy 32. Unfortunately, Highway 32 was likewise stop-and-go and waited another hour and a half to get into Chico. In total it took us about three and a half hours to travel the 20 miles.
It was well after lunch and so we stopped at a Pho place where fellow customers heard me on the phone with my mom and bought our lunch. The compassion and concern we’ve received are wonderfully overwhelming. Alec and I have lived all over the world and both of us have lost parents, and grandparents. Our home was full of irreplaceable items and family heirlooms but despite this loss, I don’t think I have ever felt more grateful.