Chico, Calif. – As Paradise resident, Frank Panek literally escaped the flames of the Camp Fire, he captured video of the moments. While sitting trapped in his car, he can be heard saying, “We’re stuck in the middle of a firestorm and we can’t get out.”
Panek did make it out, but the experience has created a new set of obstacles for him and his wife, Nina.
Of the many challenges Frank and Nina have faced during their 22-year marriage, none, they say, has been as traumatic as narrowly escaping the deadly flames of the Camp Fire.
As the couple, along with their grown daughter and one pet made their way out of the catastrophe, Panek captured even more moments of flames surrounding the roadway; homes and buildings going up in flames and trees scorched.
Of the continued traffic congestion, Panek said, “I’m trying to wait for them to move up so I can get ahead of these flames.”
When the fire broke out, Panek says he received a CodeRed Alert. He thought he had a few minutes to collect some belongings. But in reality, he had only seconds. He says he bundled up Nina, who is bedridden from advanced Parkinson’s Disease; their daughter grabbed the cat, then they made a hasty escape.
Like so many others, with flames all around, the family was trapped in traffic.
“Traffic is not moving," he said. "Come on people!”
Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough asked Panek to describe that morning. He said it was like Armageddon - hell on Earth.
As he drove, he continued capturing images and talking about what he saw.
“The tree right above it, the flames are gonna catch it!” he said.
Since evacuating from Paradise, a friend’s one-room efficiency apartment is now a temporary home. It is not an ideal situation, given Nina’s medical needs. But despite the total loss of home and property, the couple tells Action News Now they are grateful.
They say their cat survived, their family members are alive and most importantly, they have each other.
Panek said he is worried about what comes next for his family, which is finding a permanent home and properly caring for his wife’s health.
And, on top of losing everything in the Camp Fire, shortly after the Panek’s spoke with Action News Now, Nina was re-admitted to the hospital for a back injury she suffered during the evacuation.
But through the devastation and loss of a lifetime of belongings and now all the unknowns, Frank and Nina remain hopeful. She says the one thing she is most sad about losing is her collection of miniature Bonsai plants.