She said, "I just have to go on, that's all I could think of. I just have to drive, because if I do not, no one will come here and save me."
Erin McLaughlin and her 81-year-old neighbor, Elisabeth Mesones, left their homes in Magalia north of paradise on Thursday morning. But after a few minutes on the road known as Skyway they encountered traffic jams. The sky darkened, the smoke collapsed and saw small fires around them. But they could not move.
Trapped outside the paradise, Miss McLaughlin, 58, watched several other motorists driving a Pepsi truck that used them as a shelter they later opted for. The conditions worsened and they heard that propane tanks exploded on all sides.
"Another thing we've learned is," Get out of the car and go, "said Mrs. McLaughlin.
About 75 motorists rush to the parking lot of a nearby Chinese restaurant. The next six hours camped outside.
"Everything was all around you," she said. "It was the most terrible thing I've ever seen."
The fire never reached them until they could escape. But a paradise on Sunday showed the fire finally arrived. The restaurant burned.
Evacuation also resulted in moments of heroism.
Mr. Pierce, a registered nurse, did not quit leaving paradise right after it was released. Instead, he returned to the main hospital, the Adventist Health Feather River, where he runs the intensive care unit. He and some colleagues began to treat injured neighbors. When the hospital recovered, patients and equipment moved around 100 meters from the hospital to the helipad. Eventually everyone got out.
But now, even safe with his family, Mr. Pierce said his experience of near death would remain with him. "It's totally traumatic," he said. "When I close my eyes at night, I see fire."