Family who runs local summer camp flees fire in N. California, loses home

(KPTV) - Families who live in northern California experienced the horror of evacuating their homes to escape the deadly Camp Fire.

The fast-moving wildfire has destroyed homes, businesses and schools and as of Friday afternoon, five lives.

Fire officials reported the Camp Fire virtually destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County.

The entire town had to flee from the flames. The images are apocalyptic: the aftermath of where drivers abandoned their cars, trucks and buses and ran to escape the flames.

Jesse and Laurel Merz, who are originally from Oregon, moved to Paradise over two years ago with their three children.

While they live in California, they remain very connected to Oregon. Jesse Merz founded the Columbia Gorge School of Theatre in 1997. He still serves as artistic director for the summer youth theater camp.

The Merz family’s current situation is much like their neighbors, of a harrowing slow-motion escape from the fire.

Stuck in terrifying gridlock for hours, as the entire town of 27,000 people all tried to get out at once.

Fire surrounded the evacuation route and drivers panicked, some crashing and others just abandoning their cars.

Members of the Merz family were all in different places of work and school when they received the order to evacuate -- and had to first figure out where and how to reunite.

Their house was destroyed by flames. They lost all material things but feel fortunate.

“If you go on Twitter right now, you can see the number of people who are still looking for their loved ones,” said Laurel Merz, who’s relieved the whole family is together and safe near Medford now.

Jesse Merz told FOX 12 the damage makes it hard to image the future of Paradise.

“I don't know how, I don't know how we're going to rebuild as a city. It's too devastating. I have no idea what's going to happen next.”

“When it happens to you, as long as you’re safe, there's just this tremendous relief,” said Jesse Merz.

They do say they plan to return to the Chico area, once it's safe again.

The Merz family hopes anyone who wants to help the Camp Fire efforts will donate to Northern California Fire Relief Fund

Local firefighters are heading to the Camp Fire in northern California, including members of Clackamas Fire, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Canby Fire District and Hoodland Fire.

Copyright 2018 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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