Fire evacuee: ‘A ponderosa across the street lit up like a Christmas tree’

17 Humboldt County fire personnel protecting structures threatened by Camp Fire

Miranda firefighter David Felt made friends with a local dog who joined up with strike team members battling the Camp Fire in Butte County. (Humboldt Bay Fire — Contributed)
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More than 5,000 personnel from fire agencies across the state remain on scene in Butte County battling the massive Camp Fire, which, as of Tuesday afternoon, had scorched more than 125,000 acres and essentially destroyed the town of Paradise.

The fast-moving Camp Fire, which ignited in the morning hours of Nov. 8, ripped through Paradise and headed north where it threatens the small town of Magalia.

For survivors like Roger and Helen Ekins, they not only had to flee advancing flames last week, they are sure there will be nothing to return to once the situation returns to normal.

“My wife (Helen) got up quite early and noted the sky looked weird and the light was odd,” said Roger Ekins on Tuesday.

He explained that the town had an evacuation plan based on zones because getting into and out of the town can be difficult if everyone tries to leave at once.

“Our zone was under evacuation advisory so we decided to stay put and allow room for others in immediate danger to escape,” he said. “Then we lost power and Helen looked across the street, we have ponderosa trees all around us and suddenly there was a huge flare of fire and a ponderosa across the street lit up like a Christmas tree. We were no longer going to wait for a mandatory alert — an alert we wouldn’t receive for six hours, by the way, we were already in Arcata when we got it — and when we got on the road we were in bumper to bumper traffic for more than 30 minutes. Paradise is a wasteland.”

The Ekins’ would eventually escape the wildfire and make their way to their daughter’s house in Arcata, just two of the thousands of people who were forced to abandon their homes in the past week.

Among the firefighters on the ground are 17 personnel from fire departments across Humboldt County, including Miranda Fire, Briceland Fire, Blue Lake Fire, Humboldt Bay Fire and Arcata Fire District.

The daytime temperatures have been mild with the mercury in the mid-60s, but fire crews are battling very rugged and steep terrain and the humidity remains below 20 percent.

The local personnel are assigned to structural protection at a location about two miles from the seat of the Camp Fire and, according to Humboldt Bay Fire Battalion Chief Kent Hulbert, they have been busy and will remain so for the next few days at least.

Arcata Fire Capt. Curt Watkins gives the Tuesday morning briefing to members of the Humboldt County strike team dispatched to provide mutual aid on the Camp Fire in Butte County. (Humboldt Bay Fire — contributed)

“We’re not on the active fireline. We’ve been working with a dozer and other engine companies protecting threatened structures,” Hulbert said Tuesday. “We’re basically cutting back brush and clearing space around residences and outbuildings. The sun is out but there is very heavy smoke and the skies are very hazy. There have been no injuries and everyone is doing well. We’re focused on helping others and nobody is happy about the loss of life and destruction of property in Paradise.”

Hulbert said he doesn’t expect the strike team to return home for several days at a minimum and the destruction has been nearly complete. Cal Fire reports more than 6,500 homes have been destroyed with thousands of others threatened. With containment listed at about 30 percent, there will be more work to do.

The local strike team has also worked alongside other first responders who were victims of the fire themselves and yet remained on the line helping others.

“We’ve run across several folks from this area who have lost their homes or who have family members who have lost their homes,” Hulbert said. “Some of the local Cal Fire people and Ambulance personnel have lost their homes, and there are quite a few people on the line who have lost their homes as well. The help we’ve been able to provide has been much appreciated.”

For more information on the Camp Fire and the conditions in and around the fire area, check the Cal Fire incident page at https://bit.ly/2QtADWl.

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

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