REDDING, Calif. – At 3:45 a.m. on July 26, Erin Brown and her family were awakened by a knock on the front door and lights swirling from a fire truck. It was the chief and his crew from Cal Fire, who were evacuating the homes in the area over the past four hours.
“They said the fire was moving so quickly that we only had 10 or 15 minutes if we chose to evacuate. The electricity went off right as they said, ‘We’ll give you a few minutes to get out,’” said Brown, who works in the administration department at SJ Denham Chrysler-Jeep-Fiat in Redding, Calif. “We were running around in the house in the dark with flashlights trying to see things.”
With flames in sight illuminating the ridge across from their home while the firefighters waited for them to evacuate, Brown, along with her boyfriend and son, packed their cars with a few clothing items, laptop computers, birth certificates and Social Security cards as quickly as they could, including two cats and a dog. They were the last family on the street to evacuate.
“We were blessed that one of our cats got curious about the fire truck and came to see what it was. She’s kind of wild and we snatched her up and threw her in a crate as fast as we could,” added Brown, who arrived at her mother’s home, located seven miles east across the Sacramento River, at 4:30 a.m.
Over the next several hours they were glued to the television watching the news for the latest updates and scanning social media outlets on their cell phones. Later that day, Brown drove to the closest road block to find out if fire department officials had any information about the status of her home. That’s when she saw a wall of fire traveling from west to east toward her mother’s neighborhood.
“We could see the fire had moved across the gorge and was coming our direction so rapidly. It was insane,” Brown said. “While speeding back to my mom’s house, we called her and all the neighbors and warned them to pack up fast. We put our pets back in their crates, loaded them in our cars, and each of us rushed out into the gridlock with all the other residents who had no evacuation warning. People were honking their horns trying to notify others that they needed to come outside and look and see how fast the fire was moving.”
At 8 p.m., Brown and her family arrived at the home of her son’s friend, located at the far east side of town. Over the next two days, they took turns staying awake to scan the skies and watch the news while the others slept.
“The second evacuation was so sudden. There was no notice. There was no warning. There was nothing on the news,” Brown said. “If you weren’t out paying attention to what was going on and physically looking around, your life was at high risk.”
Four of seven homes on Brown’s street, including her own, were destroyed. The fire burned up to her mother’s fence line, sparing her home and the homes of two neighbors.
“We later equated that day to living out a scene from a movie,” she said. “It was surreal that such chaos and destruction were occurring all around us. There was no time to be afraid. There was only thoughts of logic and survival.”
The Carr Fire, which began July 23, has destroyed 1,604 buildings in the Northern California counties of Shasta and Trinity, including 1,079 homes. Another 190 homes have been damaged. Eighty-eight percent of the fire has been contained as of Aug. 20.
So far, seven dealership employees, including Brown, who sustained personal property damage from the Carr Fire, have received financial assistance from the NADA Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund.
Since 1992, the Emergency Relief Fund has donated more than $7 million to dealership employees and their families impacted by natural disasters.