Sharing Carr fire stories

Sharing Carr fire stories

When sharing the experiences of those impacted by the Camp Fire, we had another thought. Why stop there? We will also be sharing a few stories of those from the Carr Fire in Redding, which begun late July of last year and wasn't contained until over a month later, Aug. 30, 2018. As these "megafires" have a huge impact on the lives of those affected, we believe it is important that their stories are shared.

If you were impacted by the Carr fire and would like to share your story, please email

“The 27th of July… it just exploded. My husband and I drove out of town that morning—he was taking me to the BART to go to the San Francisco airport. I was departing for Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago. We left town and it was smoky and had this weird vibe. We kind of said well, we’re going to be apart for six weeks and it’s natural to feel a little doom and gloom.

I got on the BART, and he turned around to go back home. I’m looking on my phone, just looking for something to do, and there was a Facebook post from friends of ours, also people that go to our church, saying they were awakened by a robo-call to evacuate. They had a picture driving out, with fire on trees as they drove by.

And I though, ‘Oh my God. That’s only a few miles from our house.’ And so, I got to the airport and I’m checked in, but I’m calling my husband and a few other friends, saying ‘Should I even go? Maybe I should just stay home.’ And I couldn’t get ahold of Greg – he was driving. But I got a hold of several other people who all said the same thing: you can’t do anything about the fire -- get on the plane. So, I got on the plane, and I went to Paris, which was my stopping point on the way to the trailhead.

Now, not only is it this post that my friend had given, but now there is all these pictures from the news, saying it jumped the Sacramento River. Long story short, Greg came back home and by then, they were evacuating. So, he took our stuff, went to friends and spent three-four days with them.

I’m over in Paris, looking at the pictures, going ‘Oh my God’ maybe I should come home.’ I talked to Greg, and he said, ‘Don’t come home. You stay there, and you do the Camino.’ Then I started praying about the whole thing, saying ‘What do I do?’ I was jet-lagged, tired and worried, and finally it just came to me – this is why I’m here. This is why I’m going to walk this Camino.

And so that became my mission for the Camino – to pray for the firefighters and the town of Redding and tell everybody I met. It was really interesting, about three days in, there was this guy from France who said, ‘Madame California, is your village still on fire?’ So, he’d heard it from somebody – the story was going around. A couple weeks in, we were having a communal dinner and there was a guy from South Africa, saying, ‘One town’ – they were talking about the fire – and he smashed his fist against his palm. And I said, ‘That’s my town!’

On the Camino, I would get hot and tired, and it was maybe 75 or 85 degrees, and then I’d think that there are firefighters out in 110-degree heat fighting this fire.

Our house was evacuated, but it was safe. My friends who evacuated lost their home – the ones that I saw the video of. They said, ‘We can’t go back.’ And then there’s Rick and Betty Harrison-Smith and their daughter Margie, who both lost homes, and they’re rebuilding -- because this is where they live.”

- Jo Churchill, Parishioner at All Saints, Redding

“We fled our house last night while embers rained from the sky onto our neighborhood. At supper time, the fire was close - but surely it would not break into the city limits.  The power went out. I am a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, so I started loading the trailer. I switched into autopilot and grabbed the things that I had rehearsed in my head a hundred times: photos, hard drives, important papers, medications, and clothing. And then the wind changed.  We had very little notice. It was not until the fire was raining around us that the patrol car rolled through the streets with the loudspeaker. By then, we all knew. We were all leaving.

We were hooking up the trailer when the winds picked up.  It was a like a hurricane of smoke and ash, instead of rain.  Debris whipped around us.  Limbs were sheared from trees and tossed around the neighborhood like toothpicks.  When a sheet of corrugated steel roofing sailed by overhead, I insisted that the girls get into my daughter’s car and leave. We were right behind them. They were headed to safety at their grandparents’ home where we could be together. In the chaos of the moment, I counted the blessing.  
Once we reached safety, my thoughts started to inventory what was left behind. Our scout sashes, mine and my children’s. Yearbooks. Memory books of significant trips. But, I reminded myself, they were just things. And, with a breaking heart, I quietly counted the blessing. 

We returned to our neighborhood in the morning - our house was still standing. Our street wore the aftermath more typical of a hurricane than a fire. Trees had been uprooted and light standards littered the street. Branches floated in the swimming pool. Debris, trash, and roofing material was strewn everywhere. Some windows were broken, and several garage doors were crumpled by the flying debris. No serious damage, just serious clean up.  Relieved, I cautiously counted the blessing. 

We checked on a neighbor’s house two streets over.  His house was still standing, but many were not. Places where houses had once been were still smoldering. Metal appliances and bed frames evident amongst the ashes and ruins.

I have realized that I have far more than I need. Of what I really need. I have an abundance of friends who have reached out to make sure that we are safe. To confirm that we have landed someplace together. To send their prayers and share words of encouragement. I have my family.  I have my husband. He is grounded. He has a firm grasp on the tentative nature of this world and the stuff that we accumulate as we pass through it. He has a great way of looking through the material clutter of life to our real treasures - it is not the guns in the safe or the art on the wall. It is a family of friends and strangers who welcome us in our vagabond state and share what they have. It is not the jewelry or furniture or clothing left behind, it is the safety and health of our family. He is very good at counting blessings.   

We still have a house. But more importantly, we have each other. And we trust that God will keep us in his hands. All of us.”

- Julie Casey Clements, Parishioner at All Saints’, Redding

“I live in a town of 90, 000 people, so when over 1,000 homes burn in a wildfire, it's not a guessing game wondering if you know someone that lost their home.  It's a waiting game to see how many you know.  Or maybe a macabre horror film would be a better description.

All of us will remember the evening of July 26, 2018 when this ‘wild’ fire became ‘our’ fire.  It got personal.  It burned through the forest surrounding our beloved Whiskeytown Lake and headed for Redding city limits with a speed and appetite that fouled every effort to contain it. The concept of ‘defensible space’, so familiar to those that live in the semi-rural outskirts of town, quickly became a parlor joke in the face of this burning monster. Bare ground, tile roofs, properly trimmed trees and irrigated landscaping designed to stop the spread of fire were mere speed bumps, as the fire raced forward at a ferocious pace never seen before.

Although the flames were miles away from us, we packed up the valuables and photo albums as a precautionary measure.  Trying to be calm as we loaded the car did not fool our children who immediately became worried and wanted to leave as quickly as possible.

In the aftermath of the fire, there were days of constant texting and emails to check in with friends, confirm their safety, and guess about who and what had been lost. The airport that had buzzed with fire plane activity for days, suddenly became eerily quiet as the smoke settled in and it became unsafe to attack the fire from the air. My son became teary-eyed as I described to him what it meant for his friends that had lost their homes.
‘So, their toys burned?’ Yes. ‘What about their shoes?’ Yes. ‘Their bed?’ Yes. Everything.  It all burned.

In the grocery store later the next week, it felt unnatural to be out in the world doing something as "normal" as buying food for my family. Friends hugged, and it didn't seem odd to have this display of affection in the middle of the produce section.  Aisles were crowded as acquaintances stopped to visit and every hushed conversation, I overheard was someone's fire story. Strangers looked at each other silently wondering who had escaped unharmed and who had lost everything.

Signs of gratitude sprouted up around town. First near fire stations, and burned neighborhoods.  And then everywhere.  Freeway overpasses, fenceposts, trees, tractor trailers, chalked car windows, digital billboards and theater marquees all announced our collective gratitude for those that fought so hard to save our city.

It was a spark that started this fire, and from there the flames grew.  It was the firefighters that first fought back, and from there our response will grow. As our community moves out of survival mode, we will all have a part to play.”

- Amy Cavalleri, Parishioner at All Saints’, Redding

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