Thursday, November 8, 2018 started as a normal day for myself and so many others living in Paradise and Magalia, CA. I was supposed to be on a flight down to San Diego for work, and so had gotten myself and my kids dressed much earlier than usual, so I’d be able to drop them off at school as soon as it opened and get myself down to the airport in Sacramento in time to get through TSA before my flight.
We were about to leave for school when I saw the smoke. At first, it was just a little. A small little plume, but obviously in the canyon near my home. I called my dad, who works for CAL Fire, to see if he knew anything. I texted a photo to my husband, who was already at work, to ask him to check Facebook to see if he knew anything. I saw my neighbor walk out to his car and I called at him to turn around and check out the smoke. He is a police officer and he told me that a fire in the canyon was too close for comfort, and that I ought to stay nearby. I FaceTimed my boss to show her the smoke, so she wouldn’t think I was just bailing on my work trip. I kind of half-heartedly walked around the house thinking about what I might need should we have to leave. I asked my 8 year old daughter to gather up some things she might want if we had to evacuate for a few days.
Within a very short time, it was apparent that this fire was different. It was big. It was fast. My husband heard on the scanner app he was listening to that our area was going to be evacuated. He raced up the hill from Chico in record time (he says 10 minutes, which is TRULY amazing!) I grabbed random armfuls of clothes from each kids room, for myself and my husband. I tore photos off our walls and threw them in the car. My oldest was already in Chico, where he attended high school. I texted him and asked what he’d want from the house. He only wanted his skateboard and photos of his dad, who passed away 3 years ago. I got my younger kids and our dog in the car. And I grabbed my camera bag.
We drove to my parent’s house in the middle of town, still thinking this would be like previous evacuations. That we’d have to spend a night or two away from home, and then go back. Even though we were passing flames on our way there, at 8:30 in the morning, we still thought that it would be extinguished quickly. It only took minutes at my parent’s home before the sky was completely black and we could hear the fire roaring like a freight train. Kids went into my husbands car (he had the DVD player, we thought it might keep them calm), the dog went back into mine and we headed down the hill, not knowing that it would be the last time we’d ever see our town looking the way it did that morning, not knowing that it would be another month before we laid eyes on our house again.
Our story is so much like so many others. Our home is still standing, but has extensive damage and will be completely gutted and rebuilt. Our belongings are likely not going to be salvageable due to the heavy smoke damage and long exposure to the elements following the fire. We are in the long game phase of this fire – it will likely take about a year to rebuild the house, and even at that point we do not know if there will be a town to support us living there, or if the air will even be safe for our children at that time. We will likely never live in the town that I grew up in, that we chose to raise our children in, again.
Because of the housing shortage in Butte County, we have now relocated to Roseville, CA. Our kids began their new schools and daycares and are thriving. My husband and I are following their lead, and are hoping that if we act like we are ok, that soon we actually will be.
We have seen kindness like I never even knew existed since the Camp Fire. Friends and family, people we barely even know, have flooded us with kindness. Gift cards, clothing, housing necessities. We are so blessed to have been shown these kindnesses. It helps make each day a bit easier as we transition into our new lives.
In honor of the kindnesses that we’ve been shown, I wanted to think of ways that I could honor my own Paradise friends. Obviously, it comes very naturally to me to offer up my camera. Jesse and Tiffany are a sweet, young, hardworking couple who were raising their two boys in Magalia. They rented, and unfortunately did not have insurance. Their home burnt down and they lost everything. Jesse had been at work out of town during the fire, and Tiffany escaped with their toddler and animals. They were expecting their third child, a sweet little girl, due in December.
Tiffany and I had been talking about me photographing her csection for MONTHS. And I mean months. But this was when it was going to be me popping two miles down the road to the local hospital. Now it was a matter of a few hours drive, and a prayer that I’d be let into the OR with them, since they were now delivering at an unfamiliar hospital. I KNEW that I had to be there for them, that I would be able to offer this gift of memories for them, when they have so little left. We kept in touch, and finally it was time for sweet Makenna to arrive.
Our morning began in the pre-op section. Jesse so sweetly made sure that Tiffany was feeling ok. He told me after they wheeled her into the OR for her spinal that she was really nervous, and that made him nervous for her. You can easily tell how connected these two are. They are full of love for one another and the whole day was a testament to that.
Jesse and I soon headed back to the OR and things were already getting started. Again, Jesse’s attention was immediately on Tiffany and he set to work making sure that she was alright.
Everything about this csection was special, including the delivery doctor. He had been Tiffany’s OB in Paradise and had lost his home as well during the fire. He now has privileges in Chico as well, and Tiffany was able to continue the end of this journey with the OB that she loved and trusted.
Makenna came out healthy and gorgeous. Her dad joined her at the warmer as the nurses counted her fingers and toes and declared her perfect. Jesse continued to check in with Tiffany for the entire time he and Makenna were away, shouting out the baby’s stats and that they would be quick, and that he loved her.
Finally, Makenna and Tiffany were together again. Makenna stared at her mom, with eyes open and with such calm. She recognized her immediately and it was amazing to watch their bond, literally only minutes into her arrival earthside.
I mean, she really is insanely beautiful. I know it’s not just me!
We even got to take a peek at the placenta. The nurse showed Tiffany and Jesse the “tree of life” pattern that most placentas have.
After some rest, Makenna’s big brothers got to visit with her. It’s clear to see that everyone is in love with her!
Welcome to the world, sweet Makenna! Everyone is so happy that you are here. Thank you for being such a healing presence during such a difficult time for many.
If you feel led, here is a link to Jesse and Tiffany’s GoFundMe. https://www.gofundme.com/avgfz-pacheco-family?fbclid=IwAR2Mg3-R6NVzjfh7_RYtpp4vXJIDo_em1m5kEBiAoofms9-cSgGKdnlmPPs