Camp Fire seen from Chico

Gayle Olsen

Northern California Residents Ready To Flee As Wildfire Rages On

November 09, 2018 - 4:49 pm

CHICO, Calif. (WCBS 880) -- A raging wildfire in Northern California that quadrupled in size in a day has claimed the lives of five people and destroyed the town of Paradise, population 27,000.

Wind-driven flames spread 15 miles west to the edge of Chico, a city of about 90,000 people, where Gayle Olsen, a college friend of WCBS 880 anchor Steve Scott, now lives.

Olsen moved to Chico from Paradise and can't believe the town she once called home is gone.

"I can't comprehend it. It's just shocking. We lived there for three years. Our son played Little League sports up there, we have friends that live up there. I'm pretty sure that the house that we owned out there is no longer there. There's these places that everybody knows  -- the Safeway store up there is gone, the Kmart up there is gone, Big Bear Diner is gone, the 'Welcome to Paradise' sign is gone," Olsen said. "I don't think it's even set in. But it's just incredibly difficult to believe that that community is lost, it's gone."

Smoke and ash now hang in the sky over her home in Chico as the threatening fire looms nearby.

"It feels like it's night time right now, it's pretty dark. There's an orange tint to the sky as well. The smell of smoke, you know, is just extremely prevalent, the ash coming down is the worst I've seen," said Olsen.

The so-called Camp Fire broke out Thursday morning and by the end of the day had grown to 20,000 acres.

By Friday, it had increased to more than 70,000 acres and had destroyed an estimated 2,000 structures.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated and Olsen is ready to do the same.

"I'm ready to grab my important papers, some important pictures, of course my four dogs, hop in the car and head on out to where I don't know, but I will be prepared," she said. "We are all on alert here in Chico."