PARADISE, CA â Brad Weldon heard the sirens and watched as each of his neighbors on Lisa Lane in Paradise jumped into their cars and fled as a wall of flames descended on their town. They should go too, he knew that. Itâs crazy to stay, he remembers thinking.
But, his 90-year-old mother, Norma, immobile and blind, was having none of it.
âShe said âF-you Iâm not leaving,ââ said the 63-year-old Weldon. âSo, I said OK, we are going to fight it and we did.â
For the next 14 hours, Weldon and his roommate, Mic McCrary, did what California fire officials have urged people not to do. They stayed behind and used garden hoses and five-gallon buckets to douse the flames that ate through their neighborhood, consuming the storage units at the end of the street and the homes on either side of his own. The sound of exploding ammunition and propane tanks punctuated the day and night.
âI felt like I was fighting an elephant with a piece of spaghetti,â Weldon said.
They knew they were lucky to survive.
The deadly Camp Fire in Butte County ripped through Paradise Friday, fueled by strong winds that helped it grow to 100,005 acres by Saturday evening, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported.
The death toll now stands at 23 for a fire that has destroyed 6,453 homes and 260 commercial buildings, making it the most destructive in California history. Another 15,000 structures remain threatened by the blaze.
Weldon said nearly all of his friends lost their homes. His 1.5-acre property will likely be filled with tents accommodating those who have nowhere else to go. On Saturday afternoon, his street and the other roads throughout Paradise were deserted, except for firefighters putting out spot fires and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. crews checking on downed lines.
Weldon stood on the main drag through town, the Skyway, holding a sign pleading for gas and water.
The fire licked the side of his yard, but that was it. The green shrubbery on his back patio stood in stark contrast to the earth scorched with various shades of gray scorched around his house. A blackened chicken stood so still in a neighborâs charred yard that it was mistaken for dead.
âNo, heâs alive,â Weldon said, just as the bird cocked its head.
McCrary quieted two chihuahuas as they looked at the chicken. Leaning down to pet them, He said he rescued the dogs from the blaze, jumping into a go-kart normally used for racing around Weldonâs property to drive past the gridlocked cars to his brotherâs house, two miles away.
His brother had been at work and was unable to return home when the fire broke out.
âI tucked them into my jacket and took off,â McCrary said.
He put his brotherâs Sun Conure parrot under his collar as he held the dogs, but realized when he made it back to Weldonâs home that the bird was no longer there. He wants to believe the parrot made it, that it flew above the smoke and flames and someone will find him.
âIâve posted his picture on social media,â McCrary said.
Inside the Weldon home, 90-year-old Norma Weldon gently touched her sonâs hand. The house was sealed up as best possible in hopes of keeping the thick smoke out. Norma Weldonâs frail body was stretched out on an oversize chair, a blanket pulled to her chin.
Her son and McCrary are heroes, she said. She could not leave and they stayed to protect her.
âYou tell people how proud I am of these boys,â she said softly.
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