Aside from the distant whir of chainsaws, Coral and Doug Love’s neighborhood was awfully quiet Sunday. The Loves were doing rounds of sorts, making sure everyone had plenty to eat.
“For all we know, we’re feeding other wildlife too,” Coral said while putting some food down for the cats the two have been feeding.
“So, check this out, the firefighters also fed cats and left nice notes: ‘Hope you don’t mind, we fed your cats,’” Doug added.
Like tens of thousands of others across Butte County, on Nov. 8, the Love’s faced a life or death dilemma with no guarantees. While driving Doug’s Tacoma into the community of Helltown, they described the first hours of the Camp Fire seeing what looked like a mushroom cloud.
“It was so fast,” Doug said. “And when we were standing on the top of Center Gap that morning, the Thursday of the fire, the wind was horrific.”
The Loves said the scene was different when they got down into the canyon, everything was calm. Hours later, it all burned. For days they said they weren’t sure what was still standing and what wasn’t.
“You couldn’t see flames, you just saw smoke,” Coral said.
A small crew of volunteer firefighters using a bulldozer, know-how and whatever tools were around, held the flames back through the night, saving a small pocket of perhaps a couple dozen homes.
Coral and Doug, who fled in the first hours, later returned, then left again when flames approached.
“As we were packing as I heard all these explosions, like ‘boom, boom, boom’ and our dog that doesn’t like thunder or gunshots was quivering and what I realized later was all the propane tanks up in Paradise were exploding, it was just like, like bombs were going off,” Coral said. “It was crazy,”
Days later, the Loves snuck back through a briefly unmanned checkpoint, finding their home untouched. In their absence, volunteers had rescued their horses and donkey.
Since returning to their home, they’ve been marooned. Their property is in an evacuation zone. Rotating officers from the California Highway Patrol have told them that if they leave, they’re not going to getting back in, they said.
While frustrated—they want the roadblock moved a mile or so up Centerville Road to where it turns to gravel, an option they insist would be just as effective at keeping looters from crawling up the rough dirt track as it snakes up the canyon wall to Paradise.
They’re also adjusting to being cut off from town and work. A generator and well stocked refrigerator have helped.
“So, we’re basically it, up in this group of houses, except for the local volunteer fire captain and as far as I know, two other people,” Doug said.
Disruption of the old has led to new routines. Now they’re making daily visits to a half-dozen homes, making sure pets left behind don’t go hungry.
The Love’s said they recognize that law enforcement is stretched and dealing with an unprecedented tragedy. Still, like many others, they’re eager for normality and an end to the checkpoints.
“People just want to get home,” Coral said. “The other day when I came down here we collected cat food from people and two women were crying because they wanted to get to their cats and they wanted to get home.”
The Loves have been able to meet people at the checkpoint located on a steel bridge. There they were able to hug their daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law and get some gasoline.
“They brought us gas and then we have to wave goodbye, they go back their way, we go back our way,” Doug said.
It’s unclear how much longer the residents will be kept out of Butte Creek Canyon and all of the other places still under evacuation. A highway patrolman at the so-called steel bridge, said his checkpoint could disappear Tuesday. Maybe.