Many residents of Paradise, California, were trapped by gridlock as the Camp Fire ravaged their town, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
How was this described?
As people tried to flee the fire, gridlock was everywhere. The town has just one four-lane road, Skyway, which handles about 1,200 cars an hour during rush hour.
“Now it was being asked to empty a city of nearly 27,000,” the news outlet reported.
“The cars backed up into the feeder streets, and into the secondary roads that fed those.”
As traffic came to a standstill, people got out of their cars and ran in an attempt to outrace the fast-moving fire. Abandoned cars blocked the roadways as other drivers and emergency crews tried to get through, according to the report. Some fire trucks attempted to plow the abandoned cars out of the way.
Nichole Jolly, 34, a surgical nurse at Adventist Health Feather River hospital, gave the Los Angeles Times an account of what she faced.
“As she pulled out of the parking lot, the human resources building was on fire. Pentz Road, one of the town’s four evacuation routes, was jammed. So was the crossroad to the other nearest exit route. Cars inched forward as brush burned on both sides of them and embers rained. People yelled to be heard over the sound of exploding car tires.”
At one point, her car’s steering wheel began melting and the plastic stuck to her hands. Jolly got out of her car and ran through heavy smoke with her arms outstretched. She was picked up by rescue crews in a fire truck and they went back to the hospital, which was still standing, according to the report.
With 76 dead and nearly 1,300 counted as missing, the Camp Fire is being called the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history. The fire ripped through the town of Paradise on Nov. 8, leaving behind rubble and ash where there used to be homes.
According to a BBC report one explanation for the high number of missing people is that the list may include duplicate names.
Meanwhile, thousands of survivors are sleeping in overcrowded shelters, cars or makeshift cities, uncertain of where to turn.
Before the Camp Fire, Paradise managed to avoid the frequent wildfires of Butte County.
“…Though one 10 years ago stopped at the edge of the old mining town,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “The evacuation had been a disaster. Three of the four major roads out had caught fire. Evacuees were trapped for three hours in gridlock, leaving them defenseless if the fire had come.”
What about warnings?
Back then, a grand jury report and county fire planners said Paradise needed an evacuation plan to get people out quickly. But town leaders decided to section the town into “evacuation zones that could be emptied a few at a time,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Butte County had also contracted for a private warning system, but only an estimated 30 percent of residents signed up to be on the list, according to officials. The Mercury News reported, however, that the Sheriff’s department admitted that more could have been done. Many people reported receiving evacuation notices too later or not at all.
Now questions remain over why more wasn’t done to prepare for such a disaster.