CHICO, Butte County (KPIX 5) — Among the evacuees from the Camp Fire in Butte County, there are questions over whether officials provided enough warning to people in the devastated town Paradise as flames closed in.
Many people were already streaming out of Paradise before getting an evacuation order and found the roads were already a disaster, including resident Jerod Kenoyer.
“It was absolute gridlock,” said Kenoyer. “People were already freaking out and cutting over onto the sidewalks and the bike lane. You know, it was chaos.”
It only got worse from there. People stuck on the road abandoned their cars in a panic. Video showed a Cal Fire fireman rescuing a woman in a wheelchair along one road.
Many people claimed they never got an evacuation alert, or got one too late. The chaos prompted at least one man to call for the Mayor Jody Jones’ resignation
“My criticism today is the same thing. Where are you?” said evacuee Steven Orr.
But both Mayor Jones and Cal Fire said – short of predicting the future – there was no way the hysteria could have been avoided. The fire started at 6:30 a.m. by near Camp Creek Road, and by the time they knew it was headed to Paradise, it was buffeted by wind gusts of 70 miles per hour.
Just after 8 a.m. the first alerts went out to the primary evacuation zones and embers began to fall in town ahead of the fire front.
By 8:30 the fire was bearing down on Paradise. Shortly after is when Kenoyer got his first text alert at 8:32 – then a second at 9:09 with more evacuation zones.
“It all took off so fast,” said Kenoyer. “I feel like there was no way for people to really get alerted quick enough.”
By noon- the Camp Fire had burned through town and turned about 17 square miles to ash. It only took five and a half hours for the fire to leave most of the town of Paradise in charred ruins.
“I don’t think you can design an evacuation plan to get everyone in your town out,” said Jones “Theres just not enough roadway infrastructure to do that.”