“I’m so blessed to be alive,” said 10-year-old Tobias Autrey of his experience escaping the deadly Camp Fire in Paradise. “When we had to hurry and drive away from my school in Magalia, I cried and cried because I didn’t know if my brother at school in Paradise got out, or if he was dead. I was so scared until we found him four hours later.”
Autrey’s telling of his experience escaping the deadly wildfire, which started Nov. 8, is just one of the many stories evacuees hunkered down in tents and trailers at Woodson Bridge RV Park east of Corning have shared over the past week.
The park has become a refuge for nearly 200 who have lost their homes and everything else, and is a place of giving for the community of Corning, which has opened its arms to provide all they can for those in need.
“I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am to the people in the Corning community,” said Sonya Powers, who lost her Paradise home. “I have my pets, sons and grandchildren here with me. They lost their homes too. But the showing of love by this town has given us hope and we will build again.”
Jeanine Younger, who lost her Magalia home, said she cries everyday.
“Sometimes it’s tears of sorrow, sometimes tears of gratitude to be alive and cared for by these people who come everyday to feed us and take care of us,” she said.
Gini Whitney, manager of the park, said, “The outpouring from this community has been incredible. I made just one phone call to someone in the community for help and it has turned into this, food, clothing, everything our evacuees could need.”
Whitney added the evacuees come to her everyday expressing their gratitude.
“The people here say they feel so loved and cared for. They didn’t know what they were going to do, what they were going to eat, none of that, and every one of their immediate needs are being taken care off. I just wish I could name each and every church, person, group and organization that has helped, but that is impossible, there has been so much,” she said.
Since the very start, Pastor James Turnes of the Harvest Christian Church, and his congregation, as well as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Corning, have been on hand helping daily.
Turnes his members have been on site serving and organizing everyday from dawn to after dark.
“We got a phone call to provide a meal for the evacuees. I made a post on Facebook and help just keeps coming,” he said. “This is what we are called to do as Christians. We are the hands and feet of Jesus for these people in need.”
Just one of the businesses helping out is Green Waste of Tehama, which is donating two large dumpsters to the park free of charge for as long as needed. Los Costenos restaurant in Corning provided food for one dinner, as has Atomic Food Truck. Others helping have been SavMor, Sweet Swirls, the church in Vina, Starbucks, Andersen and Sons, Marcos Pizza, Ben’s Toilet Rental, to name just a few.
Whitney said she has also been grateful to the service provided by the American River Guides Association and Norcal Fishing Guides.
“The list is endless,” she added.
Terry Autrey, 14, of Magalia who lost his home, said, “You could never be ready for something like the fire. I got out because my teacher threw me into her car and drove me out. Trees and homes were burning all around us. I’m just worried we won’t have anywhere else to go. Except for tents, I don’t have a home. But the people helping here have made me feel okay, they are caring for us.”
One man from Sterling City who is staying at the park, said he had to quickly hook up his travel trailer and flee the fire, and on the way he grabbed his elderly neighbor to help her out of danger.
“We are both happy to be here and grateful for the help we are getting,” he said.
Whitney said the park will remain available to the evacuees for as long as necessary and knows the community will continue to help until no more help is needed.
“I just don’t know what to say, this is beyond words,” she added.
The City of Corning is opening up Clark Park at the east end of Fig Lane for evacuees in trailers and motorhomes, said City Manager Kristina Miller. The Rolling Hills Casino has also made available its RV Park and Equestrian Center for evacuees as their animals.