My brain is muddled when I first wake up at the best of times, especially when I'm short of sleep. This was much worse. I grabbed a few clothes that were drying on a rack in the living room and tossed them into a trash bag, just as my sister was coming in the back door. My brother in law was in the car saying we had to go. My nephew was there and said he would stay briefly and try to get the cats out. This turned out to be lucky for an old lady who lived next door. Her car was trapped in her garage when the power went out. He heard her screaming and managed to open the door manually, and left the neighborhood with her in her car. The roof of her house was smoldering as they pulled out, and though my house was not yet burning I don't see how it could possibly have survived. The nephew saw the three mobile homes on the street behind mine in flames just before he left.
The worst part is that we had to go so quickly that I was unable to take any of the cats. The outdoor cats had already vanished, and the indoor cats had bolted when the neighbor banged on the door and were in hiding, except for Portia. When I took my trash bag of clothes out to the car I hoped to go back in and try to get her, but we had too little time and had to go immediately. The nephew said he would try to get the cats out and would leave a door ajar for them to escape if they could, but that is the last I have heard of them. It is likely that they are all dead, as most of the town was devastated within a few hours.
We had to go along the street alongside the ex-orchard to reach the main road a block west, and saw that the fire in the field had already jumped that road, so we had to turn north. It took forever to get to the junction on the north end of town where we were directed to turn south. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper. Along the way we saw more fires, including in the last operating apple orchard in town. Turning back south from the junction we were able to go only short way before traffic stopped altogether. Fires had broken out on both sides of the road ahead. Two helicopters with bucket rigs appeared, dropping 500-gallon loads of water on the hottest spots. Some time later the fires had been knocked down enough that police could escort a few cars through at the time. Along that stretch of road we saw buildings burning on both sides of the street.
Beyond the burning zone traffic stopped again. A few minutes later a deputy sheriff came by telling everybody to get out and walk. By this time it was a dark as midnight. The sun, which had been a red disc in the smoke when we left my house could no longer be seen at all. Glowing hot embers were falling all around and blowing about in the high wind. We tried to stomp out as many as we could as we walked. My brother-in-law managed to get his car into the parking lot of a large convalescent hospital that had already been evacuated, but we still don't know if it survived. Fire was only a couple hundred feet from the road at that time.
Passing a main road that ends up not too far from my house, almost two miles east, we saw an entire block of buildings and trees engulfed. Beyond that burning stretch that road crests a hill so we couldn't see how far the flames continued. Walking about half a mile farther we reached a major intersection where there is a Walgreen's store, and we were directed to wait in the store for buses that were being brought in. This was about half a mile west of my sister's house, and my brother-in-law decided to walk home and fetch his one-ton truck, if it was possible. He succeeded, and parked it in Walgreen's parking lot, planning to pick us up and drive the truck down to Chico, but the police were not allowing any more cars onto that road, which was still jammed, so we had to get on one of the school buses. Passing through the lower part of town we saw more fires on both sides of the road, and on the part of the road beyond that where the buildings end we could see across an arroyo to the next ridge east, which was entirely engulfed.
We finally got to Chico and were left at a staging area in the fair grounds. We got hold of my brother who sent another nephew to pick us up. We have been at my brother's house north of downtown ever since. Last night the wind was blowing the fire toward Chico, and a couple of neighborhoods in the south end of town were evacuated last night. There was no real morning this morning. The sky had the color of late sunset from horizon to horizon all morning. The city has left its streetlights on. It is also surprisingly cold, since the sun can't bring the mid-seventies temperature that was forecast for today.
Although the wind has shifted and now blows softly from the northwest, it is still pretty dark. We probably won't see real daylight today. While the smoke remained high all night and most of the morning the new wind is allowing it to get lower, and we can now smell it. Fires are still burning all over the region, and over a hundred square miles have been consumed. Reports are that most of Paradise is gone, but we don't know if my sister's house has been destroyed, or if either of their vehicles has survived.
So to sum up, the odds that my house is still there are effectively zero. That early in the fire emergency crews were concentrating entirely on evacuation and not attempting to save any structures. My cats are almost certainly dead, and if any did flee they'd have had very little chance of reaching any spot that would be safe. My possessions are two changes of clothes, a flashlight, and a water bottle. I have no idea what to do next. I just can't organize my thoughts. Everything has changed forever. This borrowed laptop is very difficult to use, so I probably won't be posting much. I'm really getting to old for this exhausting crap.
R.I.P. Rowdy, Shadow, Blue Boy, Pinkie, Porky, Jarhead, Shorty, Shredda, Freckle, Frosty, and Portia. I'm sorry I couldn't protect you from this disaster. I kind of wish I had stayed in that ugly house I never really liked and died with my sweet cats.