Two Northwest Indiana men drove over a flaming road this weekend to escape a wildfire devastating Northern California.
Tamar Hill, 27, originally from Munster, said Sunday night he and Brice Klawson, from Chesterton, fled the conflagration now called The Camp Fire. Fires in Northern and Southern California have killed at least 31 people statewide, the Associated Press reported. The rural town of Paradise, California, has been largely incinerated.
Hill said a friend, Ruben Escalante, awoke him about 7 a.m. Friday at the Lake Concow Campgrounds, about 230 miles northeast of San Francisco, where he and other friends were working as volunteers.
He said they all had gone to sleep that night with no inkling a fire had begun nearby and high winds were spreading it in their direction.
"I was having a dream there was a fire because I could probably smell it. Then I heard the banging on the door, and as soon as I opened my eyes, I was coughing.
"I'm still half asleep still when I looked through the blinds. The whole sky was gray, becoming black. I could see the flames from my door. It was unbelievable, like a movie," he said.
Hill graduated from Munster High School in 2010 and moved out to California about a year ago after visiting a friend who introduced him to the laid-back lifestyle and wooded splendor of northern California. "It was an inviting experience. The values are completely different."
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He and his friends helped run the campgrounds, which are on the western fringe of the Plumas National Forest. They had a close call in the summer when the Carr Fire erupted nearby, destroying thousands of structures. "We could see the smoke, and ash was falling on the RV, but that didn't reach us at all."
"The day before we had been talking about how great the year had been," he said.
Hill said once he saw the flames he only had time to grab some identification and put on a pair of shorts before he and Klawson fled.
"Our path was almost blocked as we were leaving. The fire was on the road. We had to drive over the flames. You could see burn marks on the cars and their tires on the same road as us. Some cars were ruined when they were driven through forests.
"The dead people were the ones they couldn't rescue from fires coming down off the hill. We heard of one lady had a car accident trying to escape. She broke her ribs and was trapped in her car, but an emergency vehicle was able to rescue her before her car completely burned," he said.
It is being called the third-deadliest on record in California. More than 100 people are reported missing. More than 300,000 are under evacuation orders, and more than 8,000 firefighters are battling almost 400 square miles of northern and southern California.
Hill said he is living with a friend's family in Livermore, California. "It is very smoky here." Hill said he is certain his recreational vehicle home and campgrounds were consumed and he will have to start another life, but is thankful he survived. "I'm very positive about that."