RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Camp Fire in Northern California incinerated entire towns. More than 13,000 single-family homes were destroyed in the blaze. That's according to the latest reports from California fire officials. Residents who evacuated have not yet been allowed back in. So it's very strange for those who never left. In the community of Concow, a handful of residents stayed behind, including 59-year-old Jeff Evans and his parents, who live with him. Evans told me his house survived unscathed, but his neighbors were not so lucky.
JEFF EVANS: Beyond the scope of my property here, when I drive out my driveway, it's like driving on the face of the moon. It's just, you know, unbelievable devastation. But from my house right here as I stand in my yard, you can't even tell there was a fire.
EVANS: But if you go an eighth of a mile up my road, it is absolutely and utterly decimated. There's nothing there. And it's all very dark grey and bleak. And then yesterday, I was up on a tall bluff. And for as far as the eye can see, 10 miles, there's just nothing there.
MARTIN: Wow. Can you take us back, Jeff, to them to the morning of the fire and your decision, along with your elderly parents, not to evacuate?
EVANS: Well, the decision was kind of made for us. I went out in the early morning hours, just like I do most mornings. It's dark. And I stepped into the backyard. And I could smell smoke. And I could see the orange glow over to my east on the other side of my neighboring property. And that's when I realized the smoke was incredibly thick. So I helped mom packed some things. I got all of my computer equipment in my truck. And dad got it all in his car. And he drove up the road while I was helping Mom. He wanted to see what it looked like. And he came back some minute or two later. He says, there is just no possible way that we are leaving to go anywhere. He said, there's no way you're going to drive through flames like that.
EVANS: So Dad came back here, informed us of that. I called all the neighbors while he was up there. And so those that might have been asleep or awake now. And then Fred, my neighbor up the end of my driveway, got on his Big John Deere. And he started cutting fire lines. And my neighbor to the east of me got onto his tractor, another John Deere. And he started cutting fire lines.
MARTIN: And when you say fire lines, you just mean just taking out all the vegetation.
EVANS: Take out all the vegetation. Get it down to dirt, where the fire simply isn't going to burn anymore. That's the only way, really, to shut it down. That's why they have bulldozers out on fire lines. And kind of hard to express, really, in words, but the winds were blowing so hard, you know, you're running to hit spot fires all over your property.
MARTIN: When did you know that you were safe?
EVANS: The next day. Actually, no, that's not so. That evening - in fact, that evening, I took a ride up the road, up Hoffman Road. And there were five cars parked in the middle of the road. And that struck me so odd - that why would they park their car in the middle of the road, and there's no people? So I got out of my truck. And I looked into the one of the windows of one of the vehicles. And there's two puppies in the car. So I grabbed the dogs. I put them in my truck. I went to the next vehicle. And it's like, every vehicle had one or two dogs in it. One of them had, like, six dogs. And ah, I just - I thank - I don't know - I feel so fortunate that I drove up the road at that moment. Or those dogs would have died, I'm fairly confident.
MARTIN: So you realized that you and your parents were safe. Your house was going to be spared. And you had now rescued these dogs, taken them back home with you. But who else was there? I mean, you mentioned a couple other neighbors had stayed.
EVANS: Yeah. These are all 5- and 10-acre parcels. So there's a bit of distance between homes. And we've got Joe Wilkins (ph), Fred and Sally Hugg (ph) and Steve and Virginia Wildblood (ph). They. Live just over the hill from me. And it was just us. And there was a couple of people I didn't recognize that were out there fighting the fire, too. I don't know where they came from, don't know who they were. They might have been visiting some of my neighbors. But I've never asked the questions. I've been a little bit busy, you know?
MARTIN: Busy, right. Do you guys have enough food? Do you have clean water?
EVANS: Well, we're operating on generator power, which takes gasoline to run in my particular case. And I've gotten emails from people from Portland to Sacramento that live here that had to evacuate. And they're emailing me instructions on how to break into their house without actually breaking anything just so that I can rob their pantry and take their gas and their propane. Incredible people. Incredible people. You know, one case, I got an email last night. He says, hey, I saw one of the pictures you took of my house that doesn't exist anymore. And he says, and I noticed in the picture there's a red gas can on the side of my small trailer. It's full of gas. It's yours. But what I didn't have the heart to tell him was I took the picture, and then I stole the gas can.
MARTIN: You'd already done it.
EVANS: Yeah. I'd already done it 'cause I've got to survive.
EVANS: Plus, I - the conditions for me changed when I inherited 11 dogs. So now I can't leave. I mean, I have the ability to leave. I can go out. But then I can't come back. They won't let you past the roadblocks again. And by that point, my - you know, the conditions of my world changed pretty dramatically. I can't leave with 11 dogs. So I stayed here.
MARTIN: So you've got a lot going on and a lot of responsibilities. And yet it is Thanksgiving. Is there a particular way you're going to mark it?
EVANS: You know, that's a good question. And somebody asked me that yesterday. And I hadn't really entertained that thought. I did this morning. I was talking to mom and dad. And we're not going anywhere. So our Thanksgiving is just going to be doing the things I'm doing right now every day. That's not as depressing of an idea as it might seem. I know Thanksgiving is a big deal. But my conditions of life have changed. And this is where I am, and that's what I have available to me. So I'm just going to keep doing what I do.
MARTIN: Jeff Evans in Concow, Calif., thank you so much for talking with us.
EVANS: Oh, certainly. My pleasure. Thank you very much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.