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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 his motorhome.

Disaster evacuation adrenaline gushed through his veins, then pushed the threesome out of their Magalia, Calif., home, on the road toward safety.

“It’s looking 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, he said.

What’s that?

“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.”

Door-pounding warning

But Glenn 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 fire.

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 yet …”

Glenn’s eyes brimmed with tears, but he never let them fall.

Puzzling over loss

It’s amazing, 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 other?

“Fire wasn’t 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.’ ”

The swift 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 not-so-far distance.

“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.”


Glenn felt lucky and almost surprised, he said, by the help and comfort that came in the immediate and lingering aftermath of the fire.

Rolling out a welcome

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.

Friends 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.

“He goes, ‘Don’t you worry about it, I’ll make sure your freezer gets stocked again,’ ” Glenn said.

The Gribbles 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 imagined.

“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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              Page Updated: Monday January 21, 2019 01:56 AM  Pacific

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