Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

Former Pine Bluffs residents recall escaping deadly California wildfire

Benefit dinner planned Friday

 

November 29, 2018

COURTESY/Rick Scott

Former Pine Bluffs resident Rick Scott's view as he escaped the Camp Fire near Paradise, California. Scott and his wife both narrowly escaped the blaze which was the deadliest in California history. Before moving to Paradise, the Scotts lived and worked in Pine Bluffs.

November 8 started out just like any other for former Pine Bluffs residents Rick and Shelle Scott.

By the time it ended, they had both made harrowing escapes from the most destructive wildfire in California history.

When Shelle dropped their two daughters off at school that morning, she noticed a not-so-distant smoke plume.

When she arrived at her job, Shelle's coworkers were closely monitoring the rapidly growing fire.

"I turned right around and went home."

Meanwhile, Rick was at a work meeting at Northwest Lineman School in Oroville, California when he noticed a large smoke plume near the town of Paradise where he lived, about 20 minutes away.

It was then that Rick immediately began calling his children's school. He was told that if he had children at the school to pick them up and that the school was not taking any more children.

"I immediately took off," Rick said. "When I got there, there were no teachers, no kids - nobody around. Everybody had evacuated. I didn't know where the kids were at the time."

Rick later found out that his children left the school with a friend of the family who is a teacher. He didn't have to make the trip back into Paradise but now that he was there he had to get out - and fast.

"There's a five-lane road heading out of town and all five lanes were heading south," Rick said. "It was 'get the hell out of here.'

Heading out of Paradise, the only thing Rick could see was a distant glow and taillights. The high noon sun was so obscured by the smoke that it was dark as night.

Fleeing the flames, Rick could hear propane tanks exploding in the distance.

From his training as a Laramie County Fire District 5 firefighter, he knew he had to get out. The gridlock was too much.

"I pulled my truck off into a random driveway and I ended up running a quarter of a mile to Neil Road," Rick said. "When I got there, the other side of Neil was completely engulfed."

So he ran another quarter-mile to a different road where he was eventually picked up by a good Samaritan.

As he made his escape, Rick did his best to keep in touch with Shelle, who was at their home.

"I called Shelle and said 'There's a fire starting on Clarke Road and you need to go. Grab the dog and the cat and get out. Go,'" Rick recalled. "I was hollering at her the whole time."

As the two made their separate escapes out of Paradise, they tried keeping in contact by texting back and forth.

Unfortunately, cell service was dropped and they were out of contact for more than an hour.

After leaving her home, Shelle was met with a landscape that she'd only seen in movies.

"The highway posts were on fire and falling over. Who knows if something is going to drop on you or the car in front of you," Shelle said. "So you just keep driving.

"I drove around a lady who kept hitting her brakes. I didn't want to be behind her."

Working her way through the gridlock, it occurred to Shelle that other drivers' faces may be the last she ever saw.

*****

When Shelle made it out of the chaos, she headed to her husband's workplace in Oroville.

He wasn't immediately there, but when he arrived Shelle raced over to him.

"I didn't know at the time - people were dying," she said. "It was pretty awesome when I put my arms around him."

Their children arrived not long after. Everyone in their family was safe.

They had just survived the Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history.

According to National Public Radio, as of Tuesday, the Camp Fire has killed 88 people with another 203 still missing.

The fire burned 153,336 acres according to the report.

Because authorities aren't allowing people into the affected area, Rick and Shelle don't know how severely damaged their home is. They've only seen photos showing damage to the exterior of their residence.

But they count themselves among the lucky. Rick and two of his coworkers' homes are still standing. His four other coworkers who live in the area can't say the same.

"Our friends lost their homes," said Shelle. "I've felt more than once if my house could have burned, it would just be OK."

Rick said he feels a sort of survivor's guilt about still having a standing home.

But there's the possibility that a window could have broken, allowing the flames inside the building. There could also be smoke damage.

They just won't know until they get to see it for themselves - and they don't know when that will be.

In the meantime, the family has received nothing but an outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike from California and around the country.

That outpouring also extends to Pine Bluffs, where they lived for three years.

Several local businesses and organizations are planning a dinner on Friday to benefit the Scott family, including Pine Bluffs Distilling, High West Energy (where Rick worked for three years) and Laramie County Fire District 5, where he served as a volunteer firefighter.

On top of the dinner, there will be a silent auction and a gun raffle.

"I'm really amazed. It's really moving that they're doing that for us," Rick said. "I only worked at High West for three years, but we built relationships out there.

"It's times like these you get a sense of camaraderie with those people. I'm very moved."

His wife agreed.

"I'm rarely speechless, but I was floored," Shelle said. "Rick left his job at High West to go somewhere else. They could have just not even thought twice about us.

"People can be super amazing. We miss and love everyone there."

For High West Communications and Marketing Manager Jim East, it's simply the right thing to do.

East said the event came about organically. The Scotts never asked for any help.

"The family has been so positive," East said. "They are looking at the bright side of a terrible situation. Put yourself in their shoes."

Pine Bluffs Distilling owner Chad Brown said he wanted to help out with the family's expenses and that an event at the distillery could raise more than he could personally donate.

Then he learned Laramie County Fire District 5 was planning an event. So the distillery and the fire department came together to organize the event. Then High West stepped in.

"Then the community aspect about why Small Town America is the best kicks in," Brown said. "Then Cheyenne Beverage heard about it. They donated a keg of Sierra Nevada from Chico, right next to the fire."

The fundraiser dinner is set to run from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Pine Bluffs Distilling. Tickets are $15 and include a pulled pork sandwich dinner, a side and a drink.

 

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