BUTTE COUNTY (CBS13) — This weekend marked one month since the massive and fast-moving flames tore through Paradise and surrounded communities in Butte County, burning over 153,000 acres and leaving death and destruction in its path.
As crews start to clear out the toxic debris and rubble in Butte County, first responders are telling their stories about the moments between life and death during the deadliest fire in California history.
Butte County Sheriff’s Deputy Palmer Lee activated his body camera unsure if he would even survive the flames that surrounded him.
“He honestly believed that he was recording the last moments of his life. And in his mind, he thought he thought that perhaps the video would survive,” said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.
But somehow through the deadly fire, all first responders survived and helped the city of 27,000 evacuate or shelter in place, surrounded by blowing flames on gridlocked roads without any water.
Cal Fire Captian Rick Manson shared one of his stories saying he found an elderly woman standing on the side of the road because he got tangled in some power lines that he had to cut.
“As I opened my door, the embers are blowing inside my truck and [I’m] thinking my truck’s going to catch on fire. Shut the door. Run to the screaming I hear. It was an elderly couple cuddling each other,” said Cal Fire Battalion Cheif Sims Hawkins.
There are thousands of stories like this, making Paradise a symbol of community sacrifice and survival.
Many firefighters and sheriff’s deputies lost their owns homes in the fire and still continued to go back to work and help with recovery efforts.
Meanwhile, the biggest cleanup in state history is underway, and when the power lines are up and safe, neighbors will be back helping each other sift through what’s left.
Three people remain unaccounted for in Butte County.