The Camp Fire continues to burn in northern California, showing no signs of slowing down after devastating the town of Paradise.
The community of about 27,000 people sits roughly 87 miles north of Sacramento. The fire consumed much of the town in just hours--forcing the evacuation of all its citizens and burning buildings to their foundations. The Camp Fire is now the most deadly and destructive fire in California history, leaving many thankful just to have made it out alive.
“Absolutely devastating. The entire town is gone. I almost lost my son that day,” said Scot Rayl, who has lived in Paradise for the last 18 years.
Now safely in the Valley with family, he has several more relatives in surrounding shelters across California and his children safely evacuated to Washington with their mother.
“I’m still trying to keep it together but I’m having a very hard time,” he said.
Rayl was out on a bus and arrived in the Valley late Sunday night. He shared his experience of witnessing firsthand the fire's destruction as he rushed to safety.
“Fire everywhere, there was embers everywhere, people screaming and crying,” he said. “Everything exploding, people screaming and crying and cars everywhere, just mass chaos, worse I’ve ever seen.”
Rayl was with a friend when the evacuation order came down.
“There was barely enough time, we barely made it out alive,” he said.
He wanted to make sure his family was OK, the two got in the car and drove to his house, but the car broke down. He says he had to walk six miles to get to the house.
“We’re driving on one of the main roads and there’s fire on both sides of us,” he said.
Meeting some of his family at a local gas station, they all headed to safety. His kids with their mom, he says, he later learned his son almost perished in the fire when they were forced to leave their vehicles and run for their lives seeking shelter in a Walgreens that caught on fire.
“…and barely made it out. Fortunately, there as somebody there with a bus who was able to take them out and they were missing for two hours,” he says.
Though he is now in a safe place, he still has flashbacks that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
“I was up all night screaming my kid’s name, screaming ‘fire, help!’…It was horrible, worse thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life,” Rayl said.
Rayl doesn’t know when he will be able to get back to his kids in Washington but he knows he will return to Paradise to help and rebuild their home.
Less than 24 hours after arriving in Arizona, he and his sister started working with the Midwest Food Bank in Gilbert to get food, supplies and desperately-needed resources to the people of Paradise.
They are asking people for donations to the food bank of clothes, toiletries, diapers, wipes, blankets and sweaters.
If you’d like to help, you can drop off donations at the Midwest Food Bank located at 725 W Baseline Road. Rayl’s sister Jennifer Simas, who is helping coordinate with the food bank, says they’ll be driving a trailer there every couple days to drop off supplies.