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‘It’s chaos out there’: Residents flee Redding fire, not knowing whether their homes will survive

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The Carr fire burns along Highway 299 in Shasta, Calif.
(Associated Press)

Andrew Moon was playing the drums with his church’s music group — the last song in the set — when their director interrupted them about 8 p.m. Thursday.

“She said, ‘Hey guys, you need to stop because we looked outside and it does not look good,’ ” said the 18-year-old incoming UCLA student. “The entire sky was orange and black. Everything was really dark and smoky.”

Moon’s church group was practicing for a benefit concert scheduled for Friday. But with most church members fleeing the area in anticipation of worsening fire conditions, the concert probably will not happen, he said.

Just a few miles away, Moon’s father began loading up his car with valuables that the family had packed earlier.

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The Carr fire moved into Redding on Thursday with little warning, giving thousands of residents like Moon a short window of time to get out of harm’s way.

The fire crossed the Sacramento River and began burning subdivisions on the outskirts of the Northern California city, which has a population of 90,000.

The fire has destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and killed at least two people, including a city firefighter. Several people were treated for burns.

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For residents like Moon, it was a waiting game to see where the fire would go next.

Moon, who splits his time between his mother’s and father’s homes, took shelter 15 minutes south in Red Bluff with his mother and brother, while his father drove farther south to Chico.

Flames were visible near his father’s home, and on Friday morning, Moon and his family didn’t know whether it had made it through the night.

“We evacuated there pretty quickly,” he said. “My mother lives farther away, and we received word about an hour ago that [her] subdivision was OK for the time being, but that the fire is moving quickly and unpredictably.”

Both homes are south of the fire, so on Thursday, the family didn’t expect they would have to flee.

Moon is relatively used to fires erupting each year during the season’s dry, hot weather. “We get fires out here all the time,” he said. “We never think it’s going to be so close. In a way, we thought we were going to be OK, but we had packed our stuff that morning just in case.”

Moon’s phone was buzzing with texts from friends — traffic is so heavy, they tell him, that it took some an hour to drive a mile.

“It’s chaos out there,” he said. “People could see flames from their houses.”

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About 9 a.m., a friend called Moon’s father to let the family know its home was still standing.

RELATED: California’s catastrophic year of wildfires worsens with Redding destruction »

As Erica Bade and her family sat at the dinner table Thursday night after a day of monitoring the news, they didn’t think they were in danger.

The fire was near, but it was on the other side of the Sacramento River, about a mile away.

“All of a sudden, the fire was just there,” and the power went out, signaling it was time to leave, the 17-year-old incoming UC Santa Barbara student said.

There was no method to her packing; Bade simply picked up what was in front of her, grabbing random armfuls of clothes from her closet.

“I was standing in my room and looked out my window and started screaming, ‘I see flames. There’s fire!’ ” she said. “We were just running around. The smoke kept getting closer and bigger, the ashes were falling everywhere and it was hard to breathe because of the smoke.”

Police officers were stationed on nearly all neighborhood streets, telling residents to leave immediately. Bade and her family frantically continued to pack, taking important documents, laptops and the family computer that stored many childhood photographs.

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One officer entered their home through the garage and urged them to leave. Outside, neighbors shouted across the street to each other as they all loaded their cars.

Within 15 minutes, the Bade family drove away in tears, watching their rearview mirrors as flames crawled closer to their home.

Bade said she got a sense it would be the last time she saw it standing.

“You could just see the smoke and everything,” she said. “It was just huge flames. It did not look good at all.”

A few hours later, a Redding detective and family friend sent a photograph and called to deliver the news: Except for the front-porch pillar, the home was gone.

“We just realized that our worst dreams had come true,” she said. “It doesn’t really feel real at all. It hasn’t really sunk in yet that everything’s gone.”

Bade and her family got up early Friday, with little sleep, to inventory the items they had brought from their home, making note of the necessities they would now need.

They drove to a shopping mall, a TJ Maxx, which was closed, and Costco. Bade picked up underwear and a toothbrush. “We don’t really know what we’re going to do,” she said. “It’s surreal to us all. We’re just going through the day, taking it as it comes.”

The family had booked hotels in San Diego months earlier for a four-day vacation. “At this point, we’re probably going to go on our trip because it’s paid for and we don’t really have anywhere else to go anyway,” Bade said.


UPDATES:

2:10 p.m.: The article was updated with stories from the Bade family’s ordeal with the fire.

This article was originally published at 10:30 a.m.


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