Plowing through entire communities and leaving dozens of people dead in its path, the massive blaze known as the Camp fire spread too quickly for many to escape its devastating wrath.
At least 56 people have been killed by the unprecedented fire, now the deadliest in California history, as the fast-moving flames tore a path of destruction, leveling most of the town of Paradise.
For some, the only escape from the flames was in the frigid waters of a lake. In a last-ditch bid for survival, at least a dozen people jumped into a reservoir in Concow, a rural community outside of Paradise.
Peggy Moak, whose home sits near the reservoir, told BuzzFeed News four people who jumped into the lake to escape the fire were rescued by her brother-in-law and a friend after they spent hours in the chilly water.
“They were trying to escape the fire coming through and, because they knew it came from the roadside, they couldn’t get out,” she said. “They thought the lake was the best option for surviving.”
Moak and her family were in their home as the wildfire swept into the area, fighting spot fires and trying to keep their property from burning, when Scott, a neighbor from across the lake, told them he, his mother, brother, and an elderly neighbor had jumped into the reservoir to escape the fire.
After waiting out the fire from the safety of the frigid waters for some time, the group found rowboats and made their way to a tiny island in the middle of the reservoir, Scott told Moak. But with hypothermia setting in and the flames still surrounding the lake, the group needed to find a way out.
Scott left the island to go get help.
“They were soaking wet and shaking,” Moak said.
The flames moved so quickly through the hills of the rural community that there was not enough time to evacuate, she said, and many did what they could to save their homes and survive.
“It happened so fast,” Moak said. “There was no time for anyone in authority to send us an evacuation order.”
Scott and the three others with him appeared to be suffering from hypothermia, Moak said, so her family took them in, gave them warm baths, new clothes, and blankets. The elderly man, she said, initially appeared incoherent, but his condition had improved by the following morning.
Moak said her home and her mother’s were spared by the fire, but her son’s and most of her neighbors’ homes were destroyed.
Another survivor of the deadly fire, Greg Woodcox, told BuzzFeed News the flames caught up with him and his car as he was trying to flee the blaze. He survived by jumping into a small creek.
After smelling smoke at a park Thursday morning, Woodcox jumped into his Jeep to warn friends and neighbors about the fast-moving wildfire, pleading with them to get out.
As he tried to pry open a metal gate blocking a road to cars filled with people trying to escape, flames began to engulf the caravan, his nephew, Matthew Strausbaugh, told BuzzFeed News.
He jumped over the fence and ran, following a fox that had leaped into a small creek bed. The fire burned over him, Strausbaugh said, leaving his clothes and hair scorched.
“He said it was so loud, it sounded like a freight train,” his nephew said. “That’s what really stuck with him.”
Forty-five minutes later, after the fire had swept through, Woodcox returned to his car to find the caravan of cars destroyed. Four cars were reduced to their metal frames and ash.
Woodcox recorded the horrifying scene and asked his nephew to post it online, hoping that, although graphic, it might serve as a warning to others to heed evacuation orders immediately.
“He doesn’t feel lucky,” Strausbaugh said. “He feels like he should have died.”