Northern California firefighter Jason Campbell came home from battling one of the blazes tearing through the region last week only to find his own home burned to the ground.
The firefighter with emergency response company GFP Enterprises was leading a 20-person crew tackling the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park last Thursday when his own neighborhood was hit by the deadly Carr Fire near Redding, California, six hours north.
Campbell’s wife, Shyla, and their kids, ages 6 and 13, were safely evacuated from the area, according to a GoFundMe post by Paul Asher, GFP’s vice president of fire operations. But by the time Campbell got to his house on Friday afternoon, he found only ashes.
“It’s just hard ― it’s so overwhelming, it’s hard to put into words,” Shyla told HuffPost on Monday.
She said she got the text notifying her to evacuate their home at 2 a.m. on Thursday, and that she and her children have been staying at a friend’s in nearby Shasta Lake ever since. Thursday was her daughter’s 13th birthday, and the girl had been planning a slumber party with her friends.
“I wish I would have prepared more, I should have packed more, had stuff ready, or a plan,” Shyla said, noting that when they fled, it was pitch-black out and the air was filled with smoke and ash.
“I never have been that close [to a fire],” she added. “You see pictures, you see the flames. But at night, when the smoke is blowing toward you, you just see red.”
The Carr Fire, which started on July 23, has killed at least six people, destroyed over 700 homes and forced tens of thousands of people to flee. Officials were feeling “optimistic” on Sunday as firefighters finally began gaining ground on the blaze.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency over the blazes last week.
Last year, the state’s deadliest fires in history hit Northern California in October, killing more than 40 people. Officials told HuffPost later that 2017 was “one of the worst” years ever for fires in the state. But 2018 has also had a daunting start.
“We are well ahead of the fire activity we saw last year,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told The Associated Press on Sunday. “This is just July, so we’re not even into the worst part of fire season.”
At 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, Campbell headed back out again with his crew, this time to fight the Carr fire. Shyla said that despite being “pretty devastated” from losing their home, “he probably needs to work.”
Meanwhile, Shyla has been struggling to find a place for her family to live. The competition for rentals in the area has become fierce since the fire hit, she said.
The insurance company has suggested her family relocate elsewhere, but in her husband’s line of work, Shyla said, that’s not possible: He needs to be within 20 minutes of the office so he can be ready to head out with his crew within the hour if a fire hits.
“It is a testament to the character of [Campbell] to return to work so soon,” Asher posted on the company Facebook page on Sunday, noting the firefighter was aiming to shift his focus “back to the positivity brought about by helping” his community.
“It’s also beneficial to be around your comrades and working towards a common goal in difficult times like these,” he wrote.