The Camp fire in Northern California is now the most destructive fire in that state's history, and a pastor tells a harrowing story of a narrow escape from his town that was burning to the ground.
"We grabbed what we could," Tim Bolin says of his frantic escape from Paradise, a town of 27,000 in Butte County.
"The fire moved so fast — faster than emergency officials grasped, faster than evacuation orders could be acted on — consuming entire neighborhoods before people could flee," The Los Angeles Times reported days later.
In the neighborhoods of Paradise, the Times reported, gusts of wind estimated at 72 mph blew flames from home to home, skipping tree canopies but incinerating whole houses.
The streets of the town were clogged with thousands of people in hundreds of automobiles attempting to escape, then those same vehicles --- abandoned by their owners --- blocked emergency crews from entering the town with evacuation buses. Bulldozers were called and pushed them aside.
The flames somehow missed Bolin's house and the church, Providence Alliance Church, but his three grown children lost their homes. The fire also consumed the homes of 16 of 21 people on staff at the church.
So far no one from the church has been reported dead, but several are missing and the rest of the congregation seems to be scattered to the four winds, and Bolin doesn't know if they'll ever meet again, he tells OneNewsNow.
'Get out now'
The pastor says he was meeting with church staff on the morning on November 8, a day none of them will ever forget. The nightmare that was on its way, he says, started with an offhand remark when someone mentioned the smoke.
"We went outside and a limb dropped right between us – I mean literally about a foot-and-a-half piece of fir tree, and it had embers on it," Bolin recalls.
The church members rushed home to start packing but the firestorm descended on the town so quickly that Bolin and his wife of 41 years barely had time to gather family pets before they had to run.
"My brother called me and said, Get out now, the town's burning," he recalls. "So we just left. We literally had minutes to get out."
He says his daughter-in-law was attempting to outrun the flames on foot with her children, because flames were surrounding the family car. They were rescued by a Cal Fire hero in a bulldozer.
The entire family is safe, 22 people and 10 dogs gathered under the roof of family member in nearby Chico. But the pastor knows his family is lucky.
"There are about 600 people and about 25 dogs looking for bodies now," he says. "They're finding them out in the middle of the woods, people just running for their lives. They're finding them all over the place now."
The church website for Paradise Alliance Church now directs people to the Camp Fire Relief Fund.
Listen to more of the pastor's interview with OneNewsNow here.