Former Paradise, Calif., mayor recounts harrowing tale of escaping wildfire
'Every member of town council lost their home. Virtually our entire police department … lost their homes'
A former mayor and current councilman of Paradise, Calif., has given a chilling account of how quickly and thoroughly wildfire devastated his town of 26,000.
Scott Lotter said most residents have lost their homes to what's now being called the Camp Fire, including almost all of the town's emergency responders.
"My house is gone, every member of town council lost their home," Lotter told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition. "Virtually our entire police department but for one officer and dispatcher lost their homes.
"It's very emotional for everyone to see the devastation. As first responders they're all at work, every one of them, even though they've lost homes and in some cases they've lost loved ones. It's tragic."
Lotter says the fire started in a canyon above Paradise on the morning of Nov. 9, and was quickly blown into town by high winds.
"I could see the smoke plumes from my house … so we gathered my son and our dog and bunny, my daughter and her dogs, and we packed up and got our photo albums and things and off we went. It took us about two hours to go half a mile on a feeder street because it was so crowded."
Lotter said the hilly topography of Paradise combined with failing cell communication made for very tense moments as the fire began to overtake those trying to flee.
"A Verizon fibre-optic cable burned and knocked out nine cell sites," he said. "In the gulch where we were stuck for several hours there was no cell reception."
"Finally we were able to get out and get onto the main road. It had taken me from about nine o'clock to about two o'clock to get all the way out of town, which is about 2½ miles."
The Camp Fire is now being described as the most destructive in California history, with 29 confirmed dead and 228 people missing, according to area officials as of early Nov. 12. A number of people died in their cars, others in their homes.
More than 6,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed in Paradise with between $2 billion and $4 billion in insured property damage, according to Morgan Stanley.
Two people have also been found dead in Malibu in Southern California, where a wildfire has caused many celebrities to evacuate their homes.
Listen to the full interview with Scott Lotter:
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With files from The Early Edition