“Running for my life was not what I anticipated that morning,” said one refugee from the Camp Fire, Rona Macy. “It’s the scariest thing I've ever been through.”
Macy and many other Paradise residents quickly grabbed food, clothes and maybe a pet or two, got in the car and spent hours on roads crammed with others fleeing the fire – folks who were unexpectedly homeless, wondering if they could make a safe landing somewhere down the road.

They got up on the morning of November 8 last year, went about their day as usual, made coffee and got the kids off to school when suddenly there was a knock on the door and someone was telling them to “Get out now!”

“Running for my life was not what I anticipated that morning,” said one refugee from the Camp Fire, Rona Macy. “It’s the scariest thing I've ever been through.”

Macy and many other Paradise residents quickly grabbed food, clothes and maybe a pet or two, got in the car and spent hours on roads crammed with others fleeing the fire – folks who were unexpectedly homeless, wondering if they could make a safe landing somewhere down the road.

Many of those fleeing the Camp Fire settled in or near Chico with family or friends.

Some of them found their way to Siskiyou County. One of them was Rona Macy.

With 85 lives lost in the fire that raced through her town, Macy is grateful to have escaped with her cat Angel. On that fateful morning, she had ten minutes’ notice to leave her two-bedroom apartment in a senior apartment complex. When she looked out the window that morning, the sky had taken on a bright orange glow.

She grabbed her cat, her birth certificate, some clothes and $150 in cash. Taking one of the roads out of Paradise, she escaped the fire but found that the main route to Chico – Highway 99 – was blocked. So she detoured to Marysville, where she stayed that night in a motel.

Altogether, she and Angel moved five times over the next three months, until Macy finally found a soft landing in Dunsmuir, trading her services as a personal assistant to a downtown hotel owner for two spacious rooms in his hotel.

She’s happy to have survived the ordeal, but misses her Paradise friends, who are now scattered all over the northwest.

For Elaine Steidlmayer, the knock on the door of her mobile home and a “get out now!” came shortly after 9 a.m. She grabbed her little chihuahua-pomeranian mix and headed for Chico. Her boyfriend Bob Gramckow, who’d moved in with her just 10 days before, followed close behind her. There was gridlocked traffic on the main highway out of town, and there were clouds of smoke headed their way, so they turned around and managed to get to Chico by another route, then headed for Yreka, where that evening they found a safe haven in the home of Steidlmayer’s daughter.

Fortunately, Steidlmayer had fire insurance. She learned that there was a mobile home for sale at a reasonable price just south of Dunsmuir. In previous trips up and down Interstate 5 she’d found Dunsmuir to be “an intriguing little town” and was open to the idea of relocating there.

She and Gramckow set up housekeeping there in mid-January. It turned out to be a good move.

“I’ve fallen in love with this place,” she said. “Everybody here is just very friendly. It feels like we were meant to be here.”

Paris Petrick, who moved to Dunsmuir with her family just a few years ago from Napa, has been a kind of unofficial greeter and Welcome Wagon for Camp Fire refugees who’ve settled in the town, about a dozen of them in all. Shortly after they arrived, she held an informal meet-and-greet in her home so they could get to know each other and has kept tabs on them since then to see how they’re doing in their new home. Another Dunsmuir resident, Denise Willey, has stepped up to coordinate donations of food and clothing to the refugees.

There have been health issues, possibly relating to the stress of escaping the fire and its aftermath. There’s been at least one heart attack among the refugees in Dunsmuir. Last week one woman with severe respiratory problems was admitted to the hospital in Mount Shasta. (Petrick reports that she was taken to the hospital, gratis, by the county’s one taxi service.)

It hasn’t escaped many in Dunsmuir that, with its timbered hillsides, their town could suffer the same fate as Paradise.

“The tragedy that engulfed these people could have happened to any of us right here,” said Petrick. “It's imperative that we make more of an effort to connect with our neighbors, embrace those who found refuge here, and come together with our own disaster preparedness.

“We are all in this together.”