On the day of November 8, 2018, I got up to get ready to work. Left my house at 6:30 am. Passed a fire engine on my way to work. Didn’t think anything of it. Sitting at work.
7:15 am- I look outside and could tell by the color of the sky that there is a fire near. I log onto Facebook and read there’s a fire in the Pulga Concow area. Still didn’t think much of it as we are still a distance away.
8 am- It’s raining ash and getting dark. I try calling my sister, Tasha, who is also my roommate. She was at home, sick. She doesn’t answer.
8:20 am- It’s dark. I still can’t get a hold of my sister. I look my boss in the eyes, with fear in mine, and tell her I’m leaving. I need to get home to my sister. I head home, run into the house. She’s in the shower. I yell at her to get out. That Paradise is being evacuated! We load up our SUVs for the next 30 minutes to an hour-- grabbing pictures off the walls, clothes, water, perishables, blankets. We weren’t sure if we would be living in our cars or what.
As we heard propane tanks exploding around us, we held shirts over our faces because the smoke was so thick, but we wanted to keep grabbing our belongings. I noticed our elder neighbors were home. I ran over to their home, informed them about the fire and told them to leave NOW.
They had no idea there was a fire. They left immediately.
9:30 am- I looked at my sis and said, “We have to go.” I locked the front door, not knowing it would be my last time there and all my belongings and memories were about to burn. We sat in traffic for hours, with our fuel lights on. How the heck were my sis and me out of gas. In a panic, my sis pulled to the side of the road and called me to turn around and pick her up. She was just going to leave her car and get in mine. I go to turn around and get her. Next thing I know, a fire truck is heading toward me, so I pull over to the shoulder. Little did I know, the ground was so soft, my SUV started sliding down into a ditch. I had no control at that point-- just kept praying.
I knew my car wasn’t on all four wheels. Once I came to a stop, my sister was yelling at me to get out of my car. So scared of moving, the next thing I know, a fire fighter was at my side. He pulled me out of my car to safety and asked me if I needed anything out of my car. I cried, “All of it! It’s all I have left!” That wasn’t going to happen. The only thing he was able to get for me was my purse. Thank goodness!
I ditched my Pathfinder and all my belongings and jumped into my sister’s car. Thank heavens she was behind me. It took four hours to get to safety. The whole time, trying to get a hold of my mother, our other sister, and niece! It seemed like a lifetime before they were able to get a hold of us to let us know they made it out safe! Thank God-- my whole family made it out.
Unfortunately, my older sis and I rented and didn’t have renter’s insurance. We are trying to figure out how to move forward with nothing. We lost our home and our jobs as we worked in Paradise. I have to remember: God only gives us what we can handle. My dad passed away 25 years ago; my mom raised three independent women on her own. I can’t let my mother down now.
Thank you for reading the beginning of my story. Anything helps.
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Written By: Nicole Ritza
Posted for Nicole by: Jessica Ostrowski