Escaping the Camp Fire Flames: One Survivor’s Tale

Northwest  |  May 16, 2019

In the middle of the afternoon, two Camp Fire survivors came to Tzu Chi’s station at the Chico Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) looking to register online for Camp Fire relief aid. As we saw their tired faces and distressed spirits, we immediately rushed to help them.

Soon, we started the application process and learned more about who they were. Joshua is a pastor, and Walter is a member of Joshua’s church.

We discovered that Walter had recently undergone surgery on the left side of his iliac crest and is still amid recovery. Between his surgical recovery and diabetes, Walter has limited mobility. After the Camp Fire occurred, Joshua decided to help care for Walter, despite being a survivor of misfortune, himself.

Joshua recalled his harrowing escape from the Camp Fire – a terrifying experience that he will not soon forget. He shared a moment during his escape when he saw the trees around his home engulfed in flames, with more homes nearby being consumed by the blaze. In the heat of the moment, he took charge, and made sure his family could escape safely.

As Joshua and his family drove down the road, the flames made it hard to see the road and the fire was speedily catching up behind the car. All they could do was race desperately down the road. Joshua recalled seeing nothing but heavy black smoke, burnt houses, and collapsed trees fallen on the road still burning with the raging fire.

As Joshua continued to drive away from the Camp Fire, he kept praying for God’s peace and protection. He was terrified that the car could be overwhelmed by the flames at any moment. Eventually, however, the smoggy sky cleared with shining light, giving Joshua and his family hope and courage during the devastation. After the long drive, they were finally safe from the deadly flames.

Joshua and his family believe they made it out of the Camp Fire with God’s grace, and was grateful that his car made the trip without severe damage. The asphalt on the road melted, causing his car to heat up to extreme temperatures. In spite of this, Joshua and his family made it safely out of the fire with their car intact.

Many such individuals from the area did not share Joshua’s experience. He recalled a story about a young girl named Cambria from the Church Youth Fellowship who was not so lucky that fateful day. Unable to flee in time, Cambria was badly injured in the Camp Fire, and is currently still being treated in the hospital. Joshua expressed his sincerest wishes for Cambria’s speedy recovery, and hopes that Tzu Chi volunteers will hold her thoughts in their prayers.

After the disaster, Joshua’s wife insisted that he take on a new job and move the family to Seattle. Joshua reassured his wife that their family is now settled and safe, but expressed concerns regarding their church congregation, as the structure had been taken by the flames.

Joshua emphasized that now is the time to give members of their church guidance and comfort. He hopes to postpone their move and stay for a year to provide support to the church members until some normalcy has been restored in the community.

In contrast to the life-threatening and ominous flames of the Camp Fire that scorched the community for days on end, a beautiful rainbow appeared one morning near Joshua’s temporary residence as a beacon of hope.

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