Evacuees pick up the pieces after the Camp Fire destroyed more than 13,600 homes and other structures in the northern California town of Paradise. The day after the Camp Fire tore through Paradise, forcing the evacuation of the nearly 30,000 in the small community in California’s Sierra Foothills, Randy Stump was still at home, just miles from the massive blaze. Isolated and without cellphone service, he hadn’t realized how dire things had become. He heard the air tankers and saw the smoke, but like so many in the area, he didn’t know it was time to go until he saw the flames.
As he sped away with his brother and his dog, Ginger, he got a firsthand look at the destruction wrought by the fire, which has damaged Magalia and completely destroyed Paradise, leaving burned shells of schools, grocery stores and restaurants in its wake.
“It looked like Iraq,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. “Everything is gone. It’s just a nightmare.” The small communities, surrounded by forest, are popular among retirees, many of whom struggled to evacuate on Tuesday as thousands became stuck in gridlocked traffic. Wildfires are nothing new for the area – in 2008 nearly 10,000 were forced to leave – but the Camp Fire razed Paradise, killing at least nine people, the Butte county sheriff, Kory Honea, confirmed. About 6,500 structures have been destroyed, mostly homes. Three bodies were found outside their homes, one inside a home and several in cars, Honea said. He expects that number will grow.