We were gathering around the TV after work to eat and watch the Greatest Showman for the first time when we noticed the light shifting to an odd, orange color outside.
“It doesn’t feel right,” my wife said after she stepped out the door and looked at the sky.
She quickly came back in.
“It’s time to go.”
We read the news early Thursday morning on the way to work about the risks of the wildfires moving toward Redding this evening. I decided to leave work soon after I arrived at 8 AM to go pack our valuables after I heard about my coworker sadly losing his home outside of town the night before, only 5 miles away from our house.
I went back to work an hour later and we didn’t hear much more about the fires throughout the day, despite checking the news sites every ten minutes.
It was 6 PM now and due to the lack of any new updates, we perceived that the coming fire slowed down... until we stepped out into the driveway, noticed that the sun was missing behind a wall of thick smoke, and that the sky was now an odd, smokey shade of dark orange.
It felt apocalyptic, eerie, as if some form of doom was coming. But no one knew when or from where. Or if the fire was close.
All Kelly had was a feeling and it was strong enough to make us leave.
We left and sped east with our cars packed with bags of essentials and valuables, and quickly began to see dark smoke clouds rising behind us. We knew then that it was close, uncomfortably close, as in a couple blocks away close.
We were relieved that we left when we did.
Cars around us were speeding through town towing boats and trailers packed to the brim, full of belongings, rushing to get away from the billowing smoke brewing to the west.
You could feel the panic in the streets and see it written on the skies.
I questioned immediately if there were any of my belongings still in the apartment that I would regret forgetting to grab if we came back to find our apartment gone.
If so, it was now too late.
There was no going back.
We drove east, to our friend's house on the ridge above the Sacramento River because it would be safe, but also because it held a gaping view overlooking the mountains on the west side of town.
I pulled in, unloaded a box of our most treasured valuables and paperwork into the garage, and walked out onto their back porch to find many of the mountains that I spent the past 7 years hiking engulfed in orange-red flames.
There was one fire to the south and another to the north. The one to the south was slowly marching toward Mercy hospital and the other larger flame was moving toward the northern part of town.
There was no telling if the fires would stop, or if they even could.
Word soon spread that the fires hopped the Sacramento River with ease and were moving through neighborhoods.
It was 9pm now.
The night was upon us and the city was illuminated by mountains in flames.
All we could do was sit on the grass on the bluffs and stair over the dancing fire as if it were of a campfire. Except this, unfortunately, wasn’t logs and kindling we were watching burn, it was the city we call home.
It didn’t feel real.
I felt sad.
I felt scared. Yet, still disconnected from it all.
Anxious, yet numb.
All I could do was sit and stare at the flames creeping closer toward the city while I listened to the nervous chatter of our friend's roommates pacing across the back porch trying to figure out where they would sleep for the night.
We also began to receive word of friends fleeing town. Many were in panic on social media, telling everyone to leave. And the stress, fear, and anxiety was bringing out the worst in everyone as no one was thinking or communicating clearly or making sound judgements or decisions.
Word soon spread about neighborhoods to the northwest were being leveled by hurricane like winds and 40-foot flames.
The updates from Cal Fire, the police, and the new stations felt slow, and at times confusing. All we knew was what streets were closing and being evacuated, but nothing about where the fires actually were. It was too hard to tell from afar- which left everyone to his or her own exaggerated speculation. Few perspectives felt even remotely accurate.
It was pure chaos both outside and within the hearts and minds of every person watching, fleeing, and evacuating.
On Facebook and Instagram, we watched videos of flames reaching neighborhoods, city trails, and parks.
We continued to watch from afar, in wait, until the flames, to everyones relief, slowly began to calm.
We soon left to go to another home further east, around 11 pm, to sleep further away from the fires just in case it spread throughout the night.
We fell asleep around 1 AM, praying to wake up the next morning to our city still standing.
But no one knew.
After spending the night watching the devastation, if we did awake to the news that half the city was leveled in flames and we had to leave, I wouldn't have been surprised.
This was Thursday, July 27th, 2018 and my account of a night that I will never forget.
Thankfully, we awoke the next day to hear of the fire turning back toward where it came from. The fires started burning southwest and northwest.
It's a week later now and according to the recent calculations, nearly 1000 homes were burned, five people died, and it has been marked as the 7th most destructive fire in California history.
To those who lost their homes in the fire, I am deeply sorry, and I am grieving with you.
And to those who's homes survived, I am deeply thankful for you.
I can't imagine what many in our community are going through at this time and my heart goes out to everyone.
I look forward to lending my support to my community in helping everyone rebuild, both outside and within.
*Also, Kelly and I are safe and so was our apartment. Thank you for all of your prayers.