My dearest friends, along with so many others, have lost their home and all of their possessions. Please help in whatever way you can to allow this family to start rebuilding their life.
From Christopher Martin:
“At the beginning of 2018, Lyn Martin and I were unexpectedly uprooted from our home of six years in Chico when our landlords decided they wanted to move back into it. Within a week of receiving that news, Lyn had somehow found what we would consider a 'dream home' for us up in Paradise. The landlord loved pets and charged no fees for our animals, the yard was incredible and well suited for us, the inside interior was exactly what we wanted and all upgraded. The bathroom was huge, and the rent was cheaper. Everything was perfect, as if it was just sitting there waiting specifically for us. The only problem was we couldn't afford the deposit because of how sudden it had happened.
That's when all of you came in and helped us. With your support we were able to afford the deposit and we moved into the house on April 16. All of our friends and family who could helped us move, and then a couple months later I somehow became fortunate enough to be able to work from home at my same job, full time. Somehow, within a couple months, our lives had completely changed and become almost a fairy-tale. We were happy.
Now, at the end of 2018, our lives changed again, and it happened even faster. It happened so fast that I still feel like I am about to wake up in my bed. Thursday morning Lyn and I woke up and got our kids ready for school. My youngest asked why the light outside the window looked so orange, to which I responded that the weather might be foggier than usual. I really didn't know and didn't think much of it. I just said sometimes that happens. Then we walked outside and I immediately knew it was smoke, but I didn't know from where or how severe... but I did know that it was close. It wouldn't be until the next days I realized how close. Following this I made the choice I will likely regret for years to come, and dropped both my kids off at their respective schools. I asked the schools if they knew anything, they just said they hadn't been asked to evacuate and didn't know the status of the fire. I called Lyn asking her to look into it but she wasn't finding much info at the time.
Moments later I picked up cat food and toilet paper from the Safeway, a store which would be in flames within the hour. On the way out I called Lyn again and told her I was going to go pick up Gavin because of how close his school, Ponderosa, was to the smoke. Gage was further down the town at Paradise Intermediate, and I still didn't know how severe this was and if I needed to get him as well. Our home was in between the two, so I stopped there first. On the way there, I was contacted by both Samantha Osborn and Trevor Carango, our closest friends. They both told us we needed to leave. I was frankly baffled at this; they didn’t even live up here and no emergency crew had come by our house, there was no bullhorn announcement that we need to evacuate, there was no reverse 911 call. By the time I arrived home with Gavin, not even a half hour after I initially dropped him off, it was becoming more clear that this was a very serious situation and they were right. The fact that they reached out to us with such haste still brings tears to my eyes.
Fearing the worst I called my dad, who lives with my mom over four hours away. I needed support. My dad stayed strong for me on the phone but I could tell was worried for us, and had no idea what was going on yet. Within hours not only would he know, but the entire country would. The moment I hung up on the phone with him I broke down into a full-blown panic attack that completely crippled me. I couldn’t breathe. Lyn, who had no idea how serious the situation was yet, held me until I could catch my breath, and as soon as I did all I could say was “We need to leave.”
She grabbed clothes, medication, told Gavin to collect his favorite toys, and Gage’s tablet. I got the animals in the kennels as fast as possible and into the car, which practically filled our tiny hatchback. I grabbed my backpack and hoped it had my work laptop in it, and we left. With deep regret we had to leave cats behind who were outside. It will tear me up for the rest of my life that I did not have the time to make the car situation work to fit or find another cat. In this moment the ONLY thing I could think about was that Gage was at school, scared and alone, wondering when his parents were going to show up. IF his parents could show up. The thought of him waiting in his school for us is a feeling I would not wish on any parent, and hundreds of them had to experience it with us that day. Had I not dropped him off at school and followed by instinct we could have retrieved more, but in that moment, getting to him was the only thing I could care about. When a choice has to be made my kids will always be the one made.
The usual drive from our house to his school is 10 minutes. This one took 30. On the way I spoke to Lyn’s dad, John, who was heroically trying to enter the town to help us. He had somehow already come from Oroville to Paradise, knowing this was severe. Once I told him we were already leaving, he went to help the rest of his family who might need it, despite fighting already closed roads. By the time we got to Gage’s school, the entire sky was black. I could hardly breath. After the intense relief of seeing Gage and grabbing his hand, I had to call Lyn’s phone just to find where the car was. I couldn’t see.
All together, we got in line with the rest of the town and slowly evacuated Skyway. On the way out we saw no live flames, and it wouldn’t be until days later I understood how close we cut it, and how lucky we were. I’ve put a timeline together over the last day and realized that while we were still entering the main Skyway to leave town, our house was in flames. A 911 call available online places a police officer and a civilian outside of our house abandoning their vehicles, surrounded by flames, during that time.
It was around that time I heard from John again. This would be the last time we heard from him for several hours; he had witnessed a family evacuate their car and envisioned it being us, and frantically tried to reach us to make sure we got out. Cell reception prevented him from getting ahold of us for several minutes, and I’ll never forget the relief I heard in his voice when I answered the phone. Meanwhile he was stuck in town trying to get his father-in-law to leave. I called Lyn’s mom and urged her to reach him and demand he get out. I have no idea if her mom knew how bad it was at this point, but hearing Lyn scream “I’m not losing my dad to this” with tears in her eyes made me desperate to try anything to get him to go.
Hours later, after we were safe, we would finally hear that he made it out. He was the last hold out… hours of anxiety and stress, wondering where he was. On the opposite end, the first one we heard from was a friend and co-worker, Chris Smith, who had let me know he and his kids made it out safe and wanted to coordinate shelter. He was the first sigh of relief I could breathe, knowing at least one of my friends was safe so far. The next was Samantha, when Trevor told us she had immediately come back down after arriving at work in Paradise.
In those same following hours, we stayed with Samantha and Trevor as we tried to reach everyone we knew. We heard horror stories of other friends trying to get out of town after we did and being surrounded by flames. In the end, we know that all of our friends and all of our family escaped. Some with very little time to spare. However, we also heard, one by one, that every single personal friend of mine and of Lyn’s that resided in Paradise lost their home and their livelihood. All of them.
For the last 24 hours I’ve been watching every single video of the aftermath to find someone driving down our street. I gave up and fell asleep at 2am this morning, only to be woken up by Lyn, who had taken over and found a Facebook video on the road. I’ve attached a screenshot of the video. All that stands is the carport next to our house. There’s barely a pile of rubble in the spot our dream home used to be. We had planned to buy this home… and it’s finally time for us to somehow come to terms with this, stop holding out that we can recover any of our belongings, and move on. The house that had come to us with such ease and fortune had been ripped from us in an instant. We escaped with each other, and nothing else.
In the coming days Lyn and I have been completely humbled by the outreach of the community. Friends, family, and total strangers helping us. People who have lost just as much as us, helping us. This event has devastated and leveled an entire town and community. It destroyed the place both our kids were born. It wiped out the town my wife has spent almost her entire life in. The place she said at the beginning of 2018 had her heart, and was always her home. It took away the home I have my earliest memories in as a child, watching deer outside the living-room window and playing with toy cars on the kitchen floor with my dad.
In between staying strong for our kids and making inappropriate jokes to help keep us sane, we’ve cried. A lot. And I don’t know when that will stop. Seeing proof that our house is indeed gone and there’s nothing left seems like the first step to reconciling this, but the steps forward aren’t clear. I am and always have been a homebody who is never fully comfortable unless I’m in my little bubble that I call my house. Having that ripped from us is a violation I can’t describe; all I know is that nothing feels right and nowhere feels like home right now except for being in the presence of my wife.
We are, however, very lucky, and have a place to temporarily live that is safe and secure. We have a place that will allow us to slowly rebuild and move forward, and I know that’s more than many can say right now. I have my employer to thank for that, and it’s a debt I don’t think I can ever repay outside of continuing to work hard for them.
Our small network of friends and family have been fractured. Some are leaving the state, some are already gone… nothing will or can be the same for any of us affected by this. Sharing this experience in this way right now, moments after seeing the remains of my house for the first time, is all I can think to do to cope. It’s all I can do to somehow say thank you to the people who have helped us stay strong and stay afloat. I have long felt like my possessions were things that helped define me and show people who I was, but I was never proud of them; what I am proud of is my wife and myself for getting our family out alive, and my friends, family, and co-workers for being the most amazing people I could have the pleasure of knowing. I may not reach out very often but I want everyone to know how grateful we are and how much we love you all. I can’t wait to see you all on the other side of this.”