Survivors of deadly fire in Paradise, California say warnings came too late

LOS ANGELES — Belated warnings from public officials and the reluctance of residents who had survived previous fires to leave home were among the factors that contributed to the delayed and chaotic evacuation in what has become the deadliest wildfire in California history, survivors said.

Some of those who escaped from the massive Camp Fire last week questioned why Butte County leaders did not do more to warn residents of Paradise and neighboring mountain communities as a fire whipped with fearsome speed through the mountainous region north of Sacramento.

Most of the attention following the wildfire has focused on the search for dozens of people still missing and the possibility that power equipment belonging to the electric utility PG&E may have sparked the fire. But a few residents have begun to ask why notice did not get out to more people about the fire, which has killed 48 and destroyed an estimated 7,600 single-family homes, both records for California.

70 PHOTOS
Camp Fire, Hill Fire and Woolsey Fire sweep across California
See Gallery
Camp Fire, Hill Fire and Woolsey Fire sweep across California
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: The Woolsey Fire burns towards Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
This photo taken from video provided by CBS2/KCAL9 shows a wildfire burning in Camarillo, Calif., Thursday afternoon, Nov. 8, 2018. Known as the Hill fire, it here has crossed U.S. Highway 101, at center right, potentially threatening hundreds of homes. (CBS2/KCAL9 via AP)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are spooked as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 inAgoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
Medical personnel evacuate patients as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
The massive plume from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., wafts over the Sacramento Valley as seen from Chico, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Authorities in Northern California have ordered mandatory evacuations in a rural area where the wildfire has grown to 1,000 acres (405 hectares) amid hot and windy weather. (David Little/Chico Enterprise-Record via AP)
A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
This photo provided by Nicole Kowalczyke shows a piece of a burned page that fell out of the sky in Chico, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, as the Camp Fire burns nearby. (Nicole Kowalczyke via AP)
Medical personnel evacuate patients as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
People wear masks while walking through the Financial District in the smoke-filled air Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in San Francisco. Authorities have issued an unhealthy air quality alert for parts of the San Francisco Bay Area as smoke from a massive wildfire drifts south, polluting the air. Officials say the thousands of structures in the town of Paradise, 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, were destroyed by the blaze that has charred 110 square miles (285 square kilometers). (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: Travis Lundgren, a street maintenance worker, uses a cooler of ice and water to help put out a flair up along Rancho Conejo Blvd. during the Hill Fire in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
PORTER RANCH, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 09: The Woolsey Fire is seen looking towards the west valley area on November 9, 2018 in Porter Ranch, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
A statue rests amid a charred lot as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: The Hill Fire burns in the hills east of Conejo Center Drive in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
Smoke from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., darkens the sky as seen from Highway 99 near Marysville, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)
A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town.(AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Smoke from wildfires burning in Northern California obscures the Sierra Nevada in this view from an airliner approaching Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. The director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services says fires across California have forced 157,000 people from their homes. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
Smoke from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., darkens the sky above the Butte College sig in Oroville, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)
A police officer mans a checkpoint in front of an advancing wildfire Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, near Newbury Park, Calif. The Ventura County Fire Department has ordered evacuation of some communities in the path of the fire, which erupted a few miles from the site of Wednesday night's deadly mass shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Smoke from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., darkens the sky Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)
The Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
AOL Warning
A charred animal rests on a roadside as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Flames consume a home as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. A California fire official says a fast-moving wildfire in Northern California has destroyed structures and injured civilians. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Medical workers move equipment from a makeshift emergency room while the Feather River Hospital burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
The Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town.(AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A vintage car rests among debris as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Flames consume a building as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. A California fire official says a fast-moving wildfire in Northern California has destroyed structures and injured civilians. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
The setting sun turns blood red as it peers through smoke from the Camp Fire in northern Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)
A charred animal rests on a roadside as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Nurse Cassie Lerossignol hugs as coworker as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Medical personnel evacuate patients as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A police officer directs traffic at a checkpoint in front of an advancing wildfire Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, near Newbury Park, Calif. The Ventura County Fire Department has also ordered evacuation of some communities in the path of the fire, which erupted a few miles from the site of Wednesday night's deadly mass shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
PORTER RANCH, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 09: The Woolsey Fire is seen looking towards the Oak Park area on November 9, 2018 in Porter Ranch, California. 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A wildfire comes down from a hilltop Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, near Newbury Park, Calif. The Ventura County Fire Department has ordered evacuation of some communities in the path of the fire, which erupted a few miles from the site of Wednesday night's deadly mass shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Flames consume a car and building as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Plumes of smoke loom in the sky several miles away, seen behind a home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., as a wind-driven wildfire known as the Hill fire threatens the area late Thursday afternoon, Nov. 4, 2018. This is a few miles from the scene of Wednesday's mass shooting at the Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
This photo provided by Nicole Kowalczyke shows smoke and ash from the nearby Camp Fire in Chico, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Nicole Kowalczyke via AP)
This photo provided by Nicole Kowalczyke shows heavy traffic with smoke and ash from the nearby Camp Fire overhead in Chico, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Nicole Kowalczyke via AP)
Smoke from the Camp Fire darkens the sky on the horizon as a bulldozer cuts a fire line to protect Butte College in Oroville, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: A water dropping helicopter heads to fill up as the sun sets during the Hill Fire in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: A firefighter releases water dropping helicopters after they filled up near Conejo Center Drive during the Hill Fire in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: The Hill Fire burns in the hills east of Conejo Center Drive in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: The Hill Fire burns in the hills east of Conejo Center Drive in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
A home burns during the Camp fire in Paradise, California on November 8, 2018. - More than 18,000 acres have been scorched in a matter of hours burning with it a hospital, a gas station and dozens of homes. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The Hill wildfire burns in the predawn hours of Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, seen from Agoura Hills in Southern California. The director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services says fires across California have forced 157,000 people from their homes. The fire near the Northern California town of Paradise has grown to nearly 110 square miles (285 square kilometers). (AP Photo/Haven Daley)
Smoke from wildfires burning in Northern California obscures the Sierra Nevada in this view from an airliner approaching Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. The director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services says fires across California have forced 157,000 people from their homes. The fire near the Northern California town of Paradise has grown to nearly 110 square miles (285 square kilometers). Another fire northwest of Los Angeles has been swept southward toward the ocean by strong Santa Ana winds. Evacuation orders were issued for residents of the beachside community of Malibu. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
Strong winds blow smoke horizontally over the the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean over the city of Malibu, far distance, in Southern California, seen from the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles Friday morning, Nov. 9, 2018. The director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services says fires across California have forced 157,000 people from their homes. The fire near the Northern California town of Paradise has grown to nearly 110 square miles (285 square kilometers). Another fire northwest of Los Angeles has been swept southward toward the ocean by strong Santa Ana winds. Evacuation orders were issued for residents of the beachside community of Malibu. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Firefighter Adrien Mahnke pauses while battling the Camp Fire as it tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Flames consume a car dealership as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Flames burn inside a van as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
REFILE - QUALITY REPEAT An abandoned vehicle is seen on a road during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
An American flag is seen at an engulfed car dealership during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
PORTER RANCH, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 09: The Woolsey Fire is seen looking towards the west valley area on November 9, 2018 in Porter Ranch, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
PORTER RANCH, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 09: The Woolsey Fire is seen looking towards the west valley area on November 9, 2018 in Porter Ranch, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: A South Pasadena Fire Department engine fights the Woolsey Fire as it moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: The Woolsey Fire burns along the ridgeline off of Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on the morning of November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
AGOURA HILLS , CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
AGOURA HILLS , CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
AGOURA HILLS , CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
AGOURA HILLS , CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
AGOURA HILLS , CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
AGOURA HILLS , CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
AGOURA HILLS , CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are spooked as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 inAgoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
AGOURA HILLS , CA - NOVEMBER 09: Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 in Agoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are spooked as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 inAgoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"They definitely didn't do enough," said Christina Taft, whose 67-year-old mother has been missing since the fire. "She didn't expect it to be that bad. She expected someone would be calling, or something, if it got bad. But they didn't."

"They were negligent. They just let them go," said Taft, who has had no word from her mother, Victoria, since last Thursday. "There is a reason all these people are dead."

A resident of Magalia, about 8 miles west of the fire’s starting point, confronted Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea and other officials Monday about why he and his neighbors could not find any information about the dangerous blaze, a full three hours after fire crews first responded to the ignition point, near Highway 70 in Plumas National Forest.

“We use the emergency broadcast system for a tornado warning. But this is a deadly fire,” said the man, who was not identified by county officials whom he addressed at the meeting in Oroville. “I don’t remember any alert coming over my radio. ... People in the community are freaking out, you need to get some information up here.”

The Butte County sheriff's office said it did deliver notifications about the fire danger: 5,227 by email, 25,643 via phone (to both land lines and cellular devices) and 5,445 by text message.

"I wish we had the opportunity to get more alerts out, more of a warning out, but unfortunately we didn’t," Sheriff Honea told the public meeting on Monday.

At a news conference Tuesday evening, Honea stressed that the fire’s unusually swift progress south and west into Magalia, Paradise and other mountain communities made timely notification difficult.

27 PHOTOS
Animals impacted by deadly wildfires in California
See Gallery
Animals impacted by deadly wildfires in California
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Llamas are tied to a lifeguard stand on the beach in Malibu as the Woolsey Fire comes down the hill Friday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Cathy Fallon pets her dog Shiloh at their home Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. Shiloh was burned when a wildfire scorched the property, burning down Fallon's home. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Horses are tied to lifeguard booths on the beach in Malibu, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Wildfires are burning in both Southern and Northern California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Equine veterinarian Jesse Jellison carries an injured goose to a waiting transport during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are spooked as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 inAgoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
Dogs roam burned out neighborhoods as the Camp fire tears through Paradise, north of Sacramento, California on November 08, 2018. - More than one hundred homes, a hospital, a Safeway store and scores of other structures have burned in the area and the fire shows no signs of slowing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are tied to a pole on the beach in Malibu as the Woolsey Fire comes down the hill Friday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Llamas evacuated from the Woolsey Fire are tied to a lifeguard tower at Zuma Beach in Malibu on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)
PARADISE, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Rocklin police officers Randy Law grazes a horse he rescued in Paradise, Calif., Friday, November 9, 2018. (Karl Mondon/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
Jimmy Clements, who stayed at his home as the Camp Fire raged through Paradise, Calif., pets his dog Blue, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Clements, whose home stands among destroyed residences, said he built an FM radio out of a potato and wire to keep up with news about the fire. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Cathy Fallon sits near her dog Shiloh, a 2-year-old golden retriever, whose face was burned in the fire in Paradise, Calif. Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Shiloh needs veterinarian treatment. But she can't leave her property because authorities won't allow her to return to Paradise, since the entire town is still under an evacuation order. Fallon and Shiloh are spending nights in this horse trailer because the family home burned. (AP Photo/Paul Elias)
Marty Cable is one of dozens of horse owners who evacuated her home in Encinal Canyon to bring their animals to an evacuation area at Zuma Beach in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. Known as the Woolsey fire, it has consumed thousands of acres and destroyed multiple homes. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Goats are cared for at The Pierce College Equine Center where evacuees are bringing their large animals after being evacuated from the wildfire in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A wind-driven wildfire raged through Southern California communities on Friday, burning homes and forcing thousands of people to flee as it relentlessly pushed toward tony Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Teresa Merritt, left helps her sister Mary Lou Miller with her dogs after being evacuated at The Pierce College Equine Center where evacuees are bringing their large and small animals in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A wind-driven wildfire raged through Southern California communities on Friday, burning homes and forcing thousands of people to flee as it relentlessly pushed toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Wildfire evacuee Eva Loeffler sits with her 20 year-old pony Mini at the Pierce College Equine Center where evacuees are bringing their large and small animals in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A wind-driven wildfire raged through Southern California communities on Friday, burning homes and forcing thousands of people to flee as it relentlessly pushed toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
PARADISE, CA - NOVEMBER 11: A dog named Rockey stands on the fence in front of the home of Jimmy Clements that survived the Camp Fire on November 11, 2018 in Paradise, California. Fueled by high winds and low humidity the Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise charring over 105,000 acres, killed 23 people and has destroyed over 6,700 homes and businesses. The fire is currently at 25 percent containment. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Yolo County Sheriff's Office Animal Services Officer Tim Share leads a rescued horse towards a trailer during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A donkey is seen tied to a road sign during the Camp Fire near Big Bend, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A group of deers walk through properties destroyed by the the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Local residents bring their horses to Zuma Beach and away from the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Llamas evacuated from the Woolsey Fire are tied to a lifeguard tower at Zuma beach in Malibu on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)
People lead horses and ponies down Pacific Coast Highway to an evacuation area at Zuma Beach in the Point Dume area of Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. Known as the Woolsey Fire, it has consumed tens of thousands of acres and destroyed multiple homes. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are yied to a pole on the beach in Malibu as the Woolsey Fire comes down the hill Friday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Nine year-old pit bull Tone, which suffers from burns on its paws during the Camp Fire, rests in the parking lot of Neighbourhood Church of Chico, in Chico, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Veterinarian Dawn Alves tends to a dog named Fatty who received burns on its eyes and chin during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Evacuee Brian Etter and dog Tone, who walked on foot to escape the Camp Fire, rest in the parking lot of Neighborhood Church of Chico, in Chico, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are spooked as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 inAgoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"You have to keep in mind that this was an extraordinarily chaotic and rapidly moving situation. The fire started in a remote area. It takes awhile for our fire resources to get there and from that point, trying to determine the path of travel and whether or not that’s going to effect populated areas, that takes time," Honea said.

He added that it's possible some people were warned and didn't immediately act to get out of harm's way. "We were trying to move tens of thousands of people out of an area very rapidly with the fire coming very rapidly. And no matter what your plan is to do that, no plan will ever work 100 percent when you are dealing with that much chaos."

Honea, who took office four years ago, also suggested that emergency officials have to be concerned not to over-burden people with excessive or unneeded evacuation orders. He said the region had already lived through evacuations from earlier fires and last year’s threatened collapse of the Oroville Dam, which caused nearly 200,000 people to flee.

“So that takes a toll on people,” Honea said. “I don’t want to ever get into situation where people begin to stop paying attention because they feel like we are ordering evacuations for no cause or for very little cause.”

Like other counties, Butte has a system that allows residents to sign up for “reverse 911” telephone alerts in times of emergency.

Savannah Rauscher told The Sacramento Bee that by the time she got the 911 alert at 8:30 a.m., embers and dust were already flying around her family’s Edgewood Lane home.

"We saw a wall of fire," she told the newspaper. "Trees were glowing 50 yards away and it was probably moving like 10 yards every couple minutes. ... I had no idea it could be that fast."

Rausher and her husband soon found themselves in a long and unmoving line of cars. Her husband pulled into what normally would have been the oncoming traffic lane to escape, saying, “We’re not going to die like this.” Rausher said she waved other cars to follow along to safety.

High on the ridges above the Sacramento Valley, many homes do not have easy cellphone service, or access to WiFi. It’s unknown how much that isolation may have prevented residents from getting word of the fire.

Risa Johnson, a reporter for The Chico Enterprise-Record, said people in her newsroom also wondered how many residents might not sign up for the reverse 911 warnings because of concern about giving the government their personal information. The Sierra Nevada foothills are home to some who moved there precisely because they wanted to get away from intrusion by public officials.

But even signing up for the warnings was no guarantee they came through. Johnson said her aunt, Peg, applied for the 911 alerts, but received no notice at her Paradise home of the Camp Fire. “She said she didn’t get anything,” Johnson said. “It was friends and family calling, or neighbors coming by. That’s how many people found out.”

Taft said she argued fiercely with her mother for more than an hour, trying to convince her to flee. But there were no sheriff’s deputies demanding the neighborhood evacuate. Fire crews, busy on the front lines of the blaze, did not stop by. No one she talked to in her neighborhood was ordered out.

She said that when she reluctantly left her mother, the elder Taft was on the phone, talking to another elderly woman, both of them persuaded this fire would pass by, like all the others.

"Seniors expect an authority to tell them to leave," said Christina Taft, a business student at California State University, Chico. "And they did not get the authorities to tell them this time."

Sheriff Honea was greeted warmly by much of the crowd at Monday's public hearing. And some fire victims said it was wrong to blame the government for the fire's toll.

"This was an act of God, if you asked me," said Bill Husa, 55, a long-time photographer for the Chico Enterprise Record. "None of these officials have control over 50-mile-an-hour winds and a raging wildland fire. There is no way they had time to get everyone notified."

Questions about emergency notifications are becoming a more routine reality for emergency management officials nationwide, given storms, floods and wildfires made more potent as a result of global warming, said Rob Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.

"Nationwide we are all feeling the trauma of climate change and the number of disasters we are facing over and over again," said Lewin. "We have to build an emergency management system that is ready to handle the new situation we are dealing with."

After firestorms last year devastated broad swaths of Sonoma and Napa counties and blackened a record number of acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, many people reported they did not receive emergency warnings.

Lewin said his county has beefed up its notification system as a result — sending word of evacuations over land lines, cellphones, social media and traditional news outlets. Still, the system is not foolproof. Just 12 percent of the county's residents have signed up to receive so-called reverse 911 notifications in emergencies, despite last year's fires and a subsequent debris flow that killed 21 people. Even a system designed to push warnings to all cellphones, tested recently by the Trump administration, did not reach everyone.

Lewin said he had two cellphones side by side during that test, both serviced by the same phone company, and only one received the emergency alert. "And we don't know the reason why," he said.

An exacerbating factor in Butte County may have been the advanced age of many residents. Paradise and its environs are popular with retirees, some of whom are reluctant to leave home because of mobility problems. Feather River Hospital had to rely on private cars and trucks to get out many of its patients, just ahead of the flames.

21 PHOTOS
Aerial images of California's devastating wildfires
See Gallery
Aerial images of California's devastating wildfires
TOPSHOT - In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Fires burn toward the Pacific Ocean as seen Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, over Santa Monica, Calif. Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people — including some celebrities — to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea. The cause of the blazes was not known. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
TOPSHOT - In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A DC-10 air tanker flies over homes as fires burn Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, as seen from a helicopter over the Calabasas section of Los Angeles. Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people — including some celebrities — to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea. The cause of the blazes was not known. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A home burns Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, as seen from a helicopter in the Calabasas section of Los Angeles. Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people — including some celebrities — to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea. The cause of the blazes was not known. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California, on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Fires burn toward the Pacific Ocean Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, as seen from a helicopter over Simi Valley, Calif. Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people — including some celebrities — to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea. The cause of the blazes was not known. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California, on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An air tanker gets ready to drop flame retardant to protect homes as fires burn Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, seen from a helicopter over the Calabasas section of Los Angeles. Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people — including some celebrities — to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea. The cause of the blazes was not known. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
TOPSHOT - In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An air tanker gets ready to drop flame retardant to protect multimillion dollar homes from fires Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, as seen from a helicopter over the Calabasas section of Los Angeles. Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people — including some celebrities — to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea. The cause of the blazes was not known. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California, on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Fires burn Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, as seen from a helicopter over the Calabasas section of Los Angeles. Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people — including some celebrities — to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea. The cause of the blazes was not known. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Fires burn toward the Pacific Ocean as seen Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, over Santa Monica, Calif. Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people — including some celebrities — to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea. The cause of the blazes was not known. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Courtney Wright, a medical assistant, said her 54-year-old father was not compelled to leave his Magalia home even as the threat seemed to escalate. "We have had so many fires up there that it's kind of like it's nothing," said Wright. "It's just on to the next." When the house behind his caught on fire, its propane tank exploding, Wright's father finally decided it was time to move on.

Residents did not find an easy path to safety. The narrow mountain roads out of the communities quickly jammed, forcing some people to leave their cars and run for their lives. The incinerated corpses of others, still in their cars, provided ample evidence that the alarm wasn't raised in time.

As Honea was pressed for more answers at Monday’s meeting, he acknowledged that thoughts of those who could not escape troubled him. “I understand it was absolutely chaotic,” the sheriff said. “I will probably never be able to give you an answer that satisfies you.”

 

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.