Tragedy & Blessings
TULELAKE — Camp
Fire survivor Glenn Gribble, 57, will never forget the black
smoke. Plumes billowed across the darkened Northern
California sky as he packed his 85-year-old mother, their
yorkie poodle and any worldly possessions he could fit into
evacuation adrenaline gushed through his veins, then pushed
the threesome out of their Magalia, Calif., home, on the
road toward safety.
like a nuclear bomb has gone off,” Glenn said, recalling the
scene from a corner table in the windowless Homestead, a
Tulelake bar. “It’s looking like 8 o’clock at night, and
it’s 10 in the morning.”
The black smoke
was like a volcano erupting. It was like a pyroclastic flow,
“It’s when a
volcano has a cap and its getting ready to explode,” he
said. “It will come up into a bubble and then all of a
sudden the pressure gets released. It bubbles up, then pops
and rushes down.”
didn’t see the smoke until after his neighbor awoke him with
a 7 a.m. door-pounding warning of a massive nearby tree that
fell. The tree fell first, then the smoke. He saw it after
the automated emergency evacuation phone call; after his
hectic packing and his mother, Fae Gribble’s, frantic sweep
of family photos dating back to the 1800s.
Glenn, Fae and
Bailey the yorkie poodle evacuated to Glenn’s brother, Scott
Gribble’s, Tulelake home. Scott and his wife, Debbie, are
hosting the threesome until they are ready to return to
Magalia, their town of 13,000, a 5-minute drive from
Paradise near where the fire began, at Camp Creek.
Glenn got word
their home was untouched. But his brother, Danny Minsart,
and sister, Star Gribble, staying in Sacramento and San
Diego, both lost their homes and all possessions in the
Glenn said he
and his siblings are grateful for their lives.
“We were very
lucky that all of my family members involved in this got
out,” he said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to hear:
‘Hey, so-and-so didn’t make it, they burned up.’ And what
about those that are missing, that they can’t even identify
brimmed with tears, but he never let them fall.
he said, how some structures burned to a crisp, but others
remain intact. How do the flames jump like that? Why did
some families lose their mothers, fathers, sons and
daughters, when others — including families like theirs who
never discussed or prepared much for fire — still have each
something that was heavily talked about, but everybody
knew,” he said. “We joked about, ‘Oh yeah, this place will
go up like a roman candle if it ever caught fire.’ ”
transition from nonchalant fire jokes to snap-decision
evacuation mode was too surreal, Glenn said. He won’t forget
the highway view of 60-foot flames rolling up trees in the
“Like, no, this
is not happening,” he said, remembering the spectacle. “I
can’t believe that we’re in my motorhome going down Highway
32 and my phone’s blowing up with my family and friends
wanting to know if we’re okay.”
lucky and almost surprised, he said, by the help and comfort
that came in the immediate and lingering aftermath of the
The first night
after leaving Magalia, he and Fae stayed at the Elks Lodge
in Chico. The lodge rolled out cots for evacuees, and fed
Glenn, Fae and hundreds of others a dinner of short ribs and
salad. They got breakfast in the morning, too.
unexpectedly reached out to check in, Glenn said. One was
his Alaskan fisherman buddy he sees once a year.
Glenn told him
he was safe, but he’d lost $300 worth of salmon stored in
his freezer when his power went out.
‘Don’t you worry about it, I’ll make sure your freezer gets
stocked again,’ ” Glenn said.
are planning a quiet Thanksgiving at Scott and Debbie’s
Tulelake home, Glenn said. He’s rolling everything over in
his mind. There’s a lot to consider — the blessing of their
survival and untouched home, the tragic rebuilding his
siblings now face, the intangible, swelling destruction of
the Camp Fire.
But Glenn said
he has received more empathy from others than he ever
“It kind of
gave me the idea that, you know, there are a lot of good
people out there,” he said.
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