- Eleanor Southwick, 78, evacuated Paradise as the devastating Camp Fire hit the northern California city on Thursday.
- The blaze has now grown to nearly 110 square miles (285 square kilometers) and caused the deaths of at least five people.
- Southwick fears her home was likely burned to the ground.
A grandmother who has lived in Paradise, California, for more than two decades is grappling with the decimation of her city as Camp Fire makes its way through the town.
Eleanor Southwick, 78, evacuated Paradise with her husband and dog on Thursday morning as news of the fire spread.
Now the fire in Northern California has grown to nearly 110 square miles (285 square kilometers) and at least five people have been found dead by investigators, according to The Associated Press.
Southwick, who fled to a relative’s home in Chico, fears her home may have been burned to the ground.
“When we were still there and you could see the clouds around us, it was like leaving hell because it was red,” Southwick told INSIDER. “I think that was the most astounding part of this fire… Everything was right for the perfect storm.”
She and her husband have lived in Paradise for the last 18 years, in addition to seven years in the 1980s. They fled with just suitcases and left behind family heirlooms, including a chest belonging to her great-grandfather.
The evacuation set off a mass exodus that caused hours of traffic on the few roads leading out of the city.
Residents told The Associated Press that they saw homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement center up in flames.
Southwick said she was worried about a formerly homeless man she and her husband had helped get settled in Paradise. She said her husband was returning to the city to find him.
When the fire subsides, Southwick and her family plan to return to Paradise, and she looks forward to being part of a resurrection of the city.
“We started with nothing once, and we can do it again,” Southwick told INSIDER. “And we still have our family and friends and that’s the thing that’s important.”
Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection estimated that the number of Paradise buildings lost in the blaze was in the thousands.
“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It’s that kind of devastation,” he told AP.
The blaze spread north on Friday, prompting evacuation orders in Stirling City and Inskip.
Southwick told INSIDER that a friend’s Facebook post reminded her of what a good time she and her friends have had in Paradise over the years.
“She said we had beautiful years in a beautiful town, and made wonderful friendships and memories. And we’re all thankful for what we did have,” Southwick said, reflecting on what once was in Paradise.