When she left her Bradenton Beach home for California in 1999, Susan Jette had no idea that nearly 20 years later a wildfire would destroy the home she made for herself in Paradise.
Jette was just waking up around 9 a.m. in California last weekend. Calmly, over the phone, she described how the Camp Fire forced her, the elderly woman she cares for, her roommate and her roommate’s father out of her Paradise, Calif., home and to seek shelter.
But before moving to Paradise, Jette spent years in the Bradenton Beach area, where her parents retired.
She came to Florida in 1982 after graduating from college before her budding career took her to several states, eventually settling in Silicon Valley in 1999. She worked in San Francisco and San Jose. But after a few years, Jette wanted to leave the Bay Area.
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“And it seemed like the town of Paradise was perfect,” Jette said.
Jette left her job as a research consultant for an IT company and went into semi-retirement. She bought a mobile home in Paradise in 2014 and became a caregiver to an 86-year-old woman who lived with her.
That is, until the Camp Fire flames moved through her mobile home community on Nov. 8.
Just minutes to pack
As flames closed in on her neighborhood, Jette found out the fire was near her house when a neighbor pounded on the door and told her there was a mandatory evacuation.
She scrambled to gather what she could — a suitcase still packed from a recent trip, blankets, pillows and water — in just a few minutes. Her roommate, along with her father, did the same.
“I just thought about survival things,” Jette said. “You’ve only got five minutes to pack.”
Jette remembered going outside and hearing the crackling and popping of the flames. Driving away, she saw embers landing on her car.
“I feel very fortunate that we are safe and got out quickly,” Jette said.
Though some have been allowed, Jette has not been able to return to her home. Weather conditions there have made it unsafe.
However, a neighbor with a drone was able to fly over what remains of their mobile home park, Jette said. A photo Jette said was from the drone shows devastation.
In the drone footage, Jette was able to identify the plot of land where her mobile home once stood, thanks to wrought iron decorative items she had sitting out front that somehow survived the blaze.
But the house is gone.
The 86-year-old woman Jette cares for was injured in the evacuation and needed surgery in addition to losing her own home in the fire, according to Jette.
The fire, which started Nov. 8 and was contained Nov. 25 after burning more than 153,000 acres, killed 85 people, Butte County officials said, according to USA Today. Eleven people are still missing.
Jette’s home is one of 14,000 the fire is believed to have destroyed.
Finding home again
Now, Jette is looking for housing for both her and the woman she cares for.
“It has been quite a harrowing experience and at this point in time, the challenge is finding a temporary place,” Jette said.
She tried to apply for housing through the Public Housing Authority, but many of the documents she was told she needed were lost in the fire.
Jette said she is currently staying in Oroville, Calif., about 20 miles south of Paradise, with a friend in his two-bedroom home. But she can’t stay there forever — it has already been a month since the fire.
Jette said she also owns a second property in Oroville, but she has been renting it out to a family for nearly 10 years. She wanted to give them plenty of time to find new housing, so she told them she plans to move back in with the woman she cares for in six months.
She said she has also been encouraged by how “loving” people in the community have been with each other since the fire, and her family has also stepped in to help her.
Jette’s brother, David Jette, has offered to let her and the woman she cares for stay at a property he owns in Independence, Calif. It’s an option, she said, until the family has found new housing and her Oroville home is open.
Her brothers David and Michael started a Go Fund Me page to help her with finances. As of Thursday, the Go Fund Me had raised more than $2,200 for Jette.
“It exceeded my expectations and I am really so delighted,” Jette said of her brothers’ help.