ATLAS FIRE: CHP Pilots Recall Rescues From Hellscape In First Hours Of Blaze

NAPA COUNTY (CBS13) — Helicopter video from the California Highway Patrol shows the Atlas Fire's massive size, circling a Napa community and trapping people on Atlas Peak within its fire lines.

Wind gusts were up to 70 miles per hour when it broke out Sunday night.

"It felt like a hurricane to me, you know," CHP pilot Pete Gavitte said. "I've flown for 30 years and never been tossed around like that."

Those high winds created a path of fiery devastation below.

"Under the night vision goggles it looked like a huge bomb had gone off," CHP paramedic Whitney Lowe said.

Lowe and Gavitte evacuated dozens of people with air rescues, landing inside the fire lines.

The first rescue is one neither will forget.

"He ran up with his son," Gavitte said.

It was a man with his elderly parents, wife, and 5-year-old son.

"He stayed behind," Gavitte said.

In the midst of crisis, it was a powerful moment of selflessness.

"That's when it became real," Lowe said.

And a father saying goodbye to his family.

"He said to take his family," Gavitte said. "We did. We told him we'd come back for him. He got out as well."

"These are people who think they're never going to see their family again," Lowe said. "And at that point, to see the father put the family first, was touching. I have five kids, and that's the same decision I would have made. But I hope I never have to make that decision."

More from Steve Large
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