Wildfire survivors: We swam to safety


Authorities search for victims in Paradise, CaliforniaImage copyright
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Authorities search for victims in Paradise, California

As huge wildfires continue to devastate California, many examples of heroism and survival are beginning to emerge.

In northern parts of the state, some displaced residents survived the raging fire by wading through a reservoir to reach a remote island.

A nurse in the destroyed town of Paradise drove his lorry through flames to rescue patients from hospital.

Some volunteers have offered to house ill or elderly residents among the thousands displaced by the fire.

So far 59 people have been found dead statewide as a result of the so-called Woosley Fire in southern California and the Camp Fire in the north.

The Camp Fire, which has claimed 56 lives, is the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, and has led to the complete destruction of the town of Paradise.

More than 100 of the town’s 27,000 residents – many in their 80s or 90s – are still missing.

‘I couldn’t leave him behind’

A 93-year-old World War Two veteran, who fled his home in Paradise by driving his own car, was taken in by a couple who met him while distributing hamburgers to displaced residents.

Tracy Grant said the veteran, Lee Brundige, refused an offer to stay in her home and instead slept in his vehicle after she made sure to give him blankets and a pillow.

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Josh Fox and Tracey Grant offered to let Mr Brundige stay with them for as long as he needs

“I didn’t like leaving him there, but he’s very independent,” she said, adding that they are “positive” that this home, which was designed by Mr Brundige’s late wife, has been destroyed.

But as smoke moved closer to Oroville, about 11 miles (18km) south of the fire, she insisted that he move in with her and her boyfriend.

“He can stay with us as long as he would like,” she said.

Swimming for safety

A convoy of vehicles being escorted to safety by a firefighter ran into a wall of fire near Lake Concow, in the mountains above Paradise, on Thursday the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

A group of over a dozen people escaped the flames by jumping into the reservoir as the giant reeds on shore began to burn behind them, according to the newspaper.

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Volunteers prepare food in Chico, California

One group was able to make it to a remote island, where they were rescued by neighbours in a rowboat.

Several people with burns and a 90-year-old man with suspected hypothermia were eventually taken to hospital.

“It was a true rescue story,” said Cal Fire Division Chief Garrett Sjolund.

Saved by a lorry

A rubbish collector and a hospital nurse are among those that drove strangers to safety in their lorries.

Waste Management employee Dane Cummings was driving his typical route in Magalia, a suburb of Paradise, on Thursday when he spotted a 93-year-old woman in her front yard.

“I decided that we were gonna get her out of there,” Mr Cummings told NBC. “I don’t know that much about fires, but I knew if that fire came over that hill they were in trouble.”

Margaret Newsum said that despite breaking her back only eight months ago in a fall, she “was going to get out of there”.

“I didn’t know how, and here I got an angel driving this great big, green monster”, she said.

Nurse Allyn Pierce drove his lorry straight through the Camp Fire to rescue his patients from the Adventist Health Feather River, where he manages the intensive care unit.

“I just kept thinking, ‘I’m going to die in melting plastic,” he told the New York Times.

In a viral Instagram post, he showed photos of his charred truck, which he jokingly said gave it the colour of “Custom Campfire Marshmallow”.

‘It didn’t take our family’

After a Paradise High School track runner missed the state qualifiers due to the fire, runners in the nearby town of Chico offered to host another event to give him a chance to compete.

Gabe Price told NPR: “The fire took just about everything we had, but at the same time, it didn’t take our family.”

Students from Chico High School cheered him on during the race. After successfully qualifying, he has been training with the former rivals.

The group is training five hours away at Humboldt State University as the air is still too smoky in Chico.

“We’ve been racing against Gabe for all of our years,” said Chico student Charlie Giannini.

“And to see him not go to state, that would just be another tragedy on top of what’s going on,” he said.

Earlier this week, the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Paradise High School football team after their season was cancelled over the fire.

Coach Rick Prinz told ESPN the bus ride to the game might have been the best part.

“I think the biggest reaction was on the bus ride here when they all slept,” Coach Prinz said.

“They’re exhausted. They’re all displaced. [Almost] all of their homes have burned down. They’ve lost everything.”

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