FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE/KSEE) – Wednesday marked five years since California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire ripped through communities and towns in Northern California.
The fire destroyed over 18,000 buildings, most of them homes, and killed 85 people. Multiple agencies and people from the Central Valley responded to lend a hand.
Although the fire was terrible, the lessons learned are being applied today.
“The sky as gray and like a red hazy,” said Imron Ramos, reflecting on the day he went to assist with the Camp Fire.
Ramos has been a deputy coroner with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office since 2012.
He was one of several sent up to Butte County in 2018 after the Camp Fire had gotten under control, to help the towns of Paradise, Concow, Magalia, and Yankee Hill, just to name a few, that were almost wiped off the map.
“I’d never seen anything like that. The large sudden fatalities that they had, could overwhelm any community,” he said.
85 people were killed in the flames of this fast-moving fire that at its peak was burning at the rate of a football field every second.
Ramos and 13 others went up to Butte County to go through the destruction and try and bring families closure.
“We had multiple people from our unit respond, so that in the event that something would happen here,” Ramos said. “We have experience in a large-scale fatality incident.”
Another positive that came out of this tragedy is that the state bought three ANDE DNA machines. Special machines that help identify victims with other family members’ DNA.
Fresno County received one of these after the fire and uses it to help local counties throughout the Central Valley.
“If we’re going to respond it’s gotta be special circumstances and like you said, it’s the deadliest fire [in state history],” said Ramos.
In those special circumstances Debby Daley, a 40-plus year volunteer with the Central Valley Red Cross Chapter recalls spending the 2018 holidays responding to the Camp Fire.
“The people that were involved with this fire they are still recovering. It doesn’t happen overnight and it takes a community, it takes a village,” she said.
For her, she is grateful that people throughout the state saw the unfortunate devastation, and learned from it.
“After that fire what I did see was more people listening. Evacuating when you’re told,” said Daley. “That really set a precedence to this day.”
At the height of the fire, over 5,500 firefighters were on the frontlines.
Since the devastation, Paradise, the biggest town destroyed, has seen about 3,000 applications for homes there, up from around 1,000 just two years ago.