THE SHIELDS-BEALL FAMILY
Shauna Shields is a 31-year-old mother of four. Her four kids are C.J. (14), Hunter (13), Jaxon (4) and Ellanore (5 months). Though not legally married, Shauna refers to her long-term partner, Colin Beall, as her husband since they are essentially married. The Shields-Beall family lived in Paradise. Their house was small and wasn’t all that special, but it was their home. It sat on the property that Shauna's parents own and they were lucky enough to have them as neighbors. Need to borrow a cup of sugar or do a load of laundry? They were there and happy to accommodate. Jaxon and his grandpa are best friends and they go outside and play all of the time. Shauna's mom and Shauna haven’t always seen eye to eye on everything, but she was always there for her. Literally! She was right there! Their property was beautiful. Lots of green, beautiful trees, and so much room for the kids to play. Shauna lived in the Bay Area for most of her life but when they discovered Paradise, it didn’t take long for it to become their home. They loved it there and had no plans to leave. But, sometimes plans don’t work out the way they are supposed to.
On November 7th, 2018, the Shieds-Beall family was busy planning for PG&E to shut their power off - they had been told that, due to the extremely high winds, the power would go off around 2 a.m. on November the 8th. They went and gassed up their car, bought batteries for their flashlights, a couple cases of water and made a plan to head out of town if they couldn’t handle the power being off for more than a couple of days. They had gone grocery shopping just a couple of days before and spent $250, so they planned to make sure to keep the doors closed and hope that they had enough frozen water to tie it over.
The older boys wake up at 6 a.m. to get ready for school. Shauna got them up and they got dressed as usual. Shauna was playing on her phone, trying to stay awake, when she saw on one of the town’s Facebook pages that there was a 50-acre fire in Concow. She didn’t think much of it because it was pretty far away and she was sure that it would be handled fairly quickly. The boys normally go outside and wait for the bus at the edge of their property at 7:40 a.m., normally being picked up anytime between 7:50 a.m. and 8:05 a.m., so they were standing out there, watching as the buses passed by them. Shauna got a call from Hunter, telling her that no buses were stopping and that people were driving really fast. Since it was already 8:10 a.m., she told him that she would call the bus shack and find out what was going on. He then asked her to run C.J.’s phone to the porch, since he had forgotten it. Instead of calling the bus shack, I went to search for the phone and ran it to the porch. C.J. grabbed it and took off to the slowing bus that was stopping to let them on, it was about 8:15 a.m.. Shauna watched as her boys got onto the bus but then she turned around and saw the wall of smoke coming towards them. She told Colin that he needed to come outside and look. Everything was grey. The once beautiful green trees were turning a gross shade of grey and ash was starting to coat the tops of them like a gross, grey powdered snow. “This is bad, you need to start packing.”, is all Colin said as he started to look at his phone for any alerts or information. No alerts, but people were posting pictures and videos of what they were seeing from their own porches.
It just didn’t seem real. Shauna kept thinking that they had done this before. But they went ahead and packed up as much of their lives as they could and shoved it in the car and just waited for that call and/or text telling them to leave. But they got nothing.
At 8:23 a.m., She got a call from her oldest son, who sounded frantic and scared. “Mom, they are evacuating the school. They are telling people to just leave. What do I do?”, she told him to stay calm and that his dad would be right there to pick him up. They told him to walk away from the school, towards the end of the street, so Colin could get to him faster. Colin left without hesitation at 8:25 a.m.. Shauna called Hunter to ask him about his school, he told her he wasn’t even there yet, so she said to call her as soon as he got there. Not more that 2 minutes later, she got a call. “Mom, I see flames. The school next to mine is on fire. What do I do? Kids are just leaving. They are dropping their stuff and running. What am I supposed to do?” Shauna told him what she told C.J., "stay calm and dad is on the way", that was 8:27 a.m.
Shuana was still at home with Ella and Jaxon and no car. She called her dad to let him know what was going on and told him he should probably get up. Shauna still didn’t have much urgency in her voice, because it still wasn’t happening yet. It wasn’t real. She changed from her pajamas into sweats and a sweatshirt, brushed her teeth, used the bathroom, got clothes out for the littles to wear for the day, then she started hearing some sort of explosions. It sounded like a battlefield, like it could have been straight out of a movie. It took her a minute to realize that people’s propane tanks were exploding. EXPLODING. This wasn’t just one that blew up because of a freak accident, this was multiple blowing up, one right after the other, this was getting big and, even worse, it was close. She called Colin to find out where he was and how much longer it would be to get back to them. He told her they weren’t letting him go back up, the police officer posted in the middle of the street was instructing people to turn their cars around and get out of town NOW. He told her to get the kids and the dogs and go to her dad’s house. They said, “I love you” and hung up. It was 8:34 a.m. She woke up Jaxon and told him that something was happening, and they had to leave. She threw something on him as fast as she could, grabbed some clothes for him to shove in a bag, then put Ella in her seat, grabbed her diaper bag and threw some stuff in there for her, grabbed a stack of files from the bin by her bed, hoping that she got most of the important ones and headed from her bedroom to her older boys’ room. She saw her oldest son’s high school I.D. on the desk, so she grabbed it. Then she turned and looked at all of their metals that they had gotten from various sports, the pictures that Shauna knew she didn’t have any digital copies of, their jerseys from their many years of football, the brand-new shoes they had just bought Hunter for the up-coming season that he had been so excited about. Just as she had decided to try and grab something, a propane tank exploded again, except this time it shook her whole house, knocking everything down from the shelves and her precious pictures and memories from the walls. Now she was scared, now she knew that they needed to leave. She grabbed Ella and told Jaxon they had to go. She ran down the hall with Ella in her car seat on one arm and the bags on the other. They had just spent $200 on formula the night before and it happened to still be sitting in the bag, by the door. Shauna told Jaxon to run to Papa’s house and tell him they needed to go with him. He was scared, but he ran over there, while she tried to juggle all of their stuff, Ella and the dog. When Shauna finally closed, and locked, the door behind her, it was 8:39 a.m. She left the formula on her porch and headed to her dad’s driveway where he was getting in the car to leave. The look on his face said it all, he didn’t know they were home. He thought they had already left. Just a few minutes later, and they would have been stuck in Paradise with no way to get out on our own. He put the kids in the car and Shauna ran back for the formula. She stopped for a second and just looked at her house. She saw the cracked window from when one of the boys threw a football in the house and broke it; she saw the brand new easy up sitting in its box on the porch, just waiting to be used; she saw her kids’ bikes that they had saved and paid for on their own and her daughter’s brand-new baby saucer that they had been waiting to bring in the house; she saw Colin’s fishing boat with Jaxon’s fishing pole sitting in the front of it, ready to go. Her house wasn't perfect, but it was home.
Five minutes. She had five minutes from the time that she realized they had to leave, to the time that she was standing out front of her home, not knowing that it would be the last time she saw it. Five minutes, and it was gone.
The drive out of town is something Shauna doesn’t think she will ever be able to forget; she will never be able to forget tge people running down the street, some running up, just not knowing where to go, or the little kid that was standing at the crosswalk, looking confused as to what they were supposed to do next. She will never be able to forget that the first house she saw in flames happened to be owned by one of her close friends. Her town was in flames. She watched, while sitting in the grid lock traffic, as a helicopter dumped a bucket of water in the canyon just behind their home. She looked out the window to see an American flag, just barely moving, then all of a sudden come to life as a huge gust of wind came, blowing it and embers all around. People were abandoning their cars, putting them into the ditches that they had once watched numerous cars get towed from, and just taking off on foot. While in the traffic, not too far from where the Shields-Beall family home was, they had to make room for the many buses and vans trying to get to the senior home that was just two doors down from them. They had four dogs in the car, along with Shauna's dad, brother, sister, daughter, son and herself. It was cramped and full of stress. Her dad was strong for all of them, Shauna tried to be but she was having small breakdowns in the back as she sat on the floor with her dog, trying to keep her from barking at the people running past the windows. Jaxon decided he wanted to take a nap, so she covered him with a blanket and kissed his forehead. He slept through most of the four or more hours that it took them to get from Paradise to Chico, a drive that normally takes around 20 minutes. Her daughter cried, she had all of that formula, but no water. She changed her diaper, rocked her back to sleep, then put her back in her car seat, after going back to trying to get a call out.
Cell service was almost completely non-existent at this point, they were lucky to get a text message out, let alone a call. When one of Shauna's older boys finally got through, he put the call on speaker phone. “We are by Don’s Saw Shop. There are sparks coming out of it, it’s on fire! The flames are getting close to the car---“, and that was it. The phone cut out. After many unsuccessful attempts to call back and what seemed like hundreds of text messages, Shauna finally got a message. “We are slowly heading down Clark.” At that point, she didn’t know when her texts were actually being sent/received, so she decided to put the time in parenthesis after every message, that way everyone would know when it was sent. Not only was she trying to keep in touch with her sons and Colin, but she needed to keep her mom updated, as well as make sure that her best friend, (who is more like family), and everyone at her house were OK. She also had to make sure that her sister’s family was safe. What would she do if they didn’t make it out? They are her people and she needs them.
They were stopped in front of Jack In The Box on Skyway, the place where both her brother and sister work, as they watched an older lady keep getting out of her car every time traffic stopped to try to find someone to talk to her. She looked scared, as did everyone else. It was before noon in their beautiful town, and yet it was pitch black, except for the orange glow from the growing flames and the sparks from the falling powerlines. It was the apocalypse. This was it. They weren’t moving and they could feel the heat from the flames. This was it.
Finally, traffic picked up a bit, it wasn’t fast, but it was better than nothing. They got down by the health center at the bottom of town and it was just surrounded in fire. Across from that, the only thing that was left were the frames of the houses that were once there, but they, too, were drenched in fire. Shauna looked back to see what looked like a skinny tornado of fire forming. Her town was gone, it was just gone. Her dad drove forward through the flames, unable to see more than a couple of feet ahead. The black started to fade to grey and as they exited Paradise for the last time, for a long time. The last thing they saw of the town was the “Welcome To Paradise” sign with flames dancing on the side of it.
The smoke was thick, even in Chico. In one of the successful text messages that had gone through - only after having people that were in different towns relay messages for them - they decided to meet in the Walmart parking lot in Chico. A place that would soon become a safe haven for thousands of people that didn’t know where to go. They stayed there for hours. Just watching, waiting. Unsure if this meant it was all gone, if they could ever go home, or if it was really happening. They watched as the smoke grew bigger and bigger, throwing ash the size of dollar bills all the way down to Chico.
Shauna recalls the first interview she watched on T.V. about the fire. The news anchor was all dressed up and smiling. She was going on and on about how there were reports saying that things were moving calmly and smoothly, that it didn’t take long to complete the evacuation and how officials were confident that there were going to be few fatalities. Was she talking about the same town? The same fire? She was not there, she didn’t see the frantic people fleeing, or the large amounts of jackets, bikes and backpacks that littered the ground in front of Shauna's sons’ schools, like Colin and her older boys had. She didn’t drive past her friends house, fully engulfed in flames. She didn't see a kid on the side of the road, just standing there looking confused, until a police officer came to assist. She had to be talking about another fire, because the roadways were clogged with cars that had no place else to go, but down. She was wrong. This was all wrong.
As the days passed, they saw videos and pictures of other homes, but none of their own. Then finally, it happened. Someone who was taking a video drove past their house, or where it was supposed to be...it was gone. Nothing but a white roof. “This looks like it could be a window!” were one of the few things friends tried to tell them was there, they didn’t want them to give up hope.
Then CalFire confirmed it. They saw it all. Or where it all was. Nothing stood. Houses, barns, cottage, shed, garage…all gone. Nothing left. The hopes that we once had were gone with it.
Shauna created a amazon wishlists for each member of her family members. Please consider purchasing something for them or donating directly to their facebook fundraiser.