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November 1, 2019

From the Dean's Desk

Dean Terence Lau
College of Business Dean Terence Lau

Remembering the Camp Fire with professor Angela Casler

November 1, 2019

Dear alumni and friends,

A year ago, on November 8, 2018, management lecturer Angela Casler was getting ready for the day at 7:30 a.m. when she noticed debris flying outside her window. Her husband, Jim, a mechanic, was already at work in Redding. It had been a hot and dry fall in Paradise, the normal winter rains late in arriving. For days, PG&E had been leaving notes on doors about a high wind event possibly requiring the utility company to turn electricity off, but the power was still on that morning. There were reports that a fire had broken out in Pulga, but that was 12 miles away, and Angela wasn’t too concerned. She figured they would have to evacuate their house for a few days, and then return. This was almost routine, living in Paradise.

At 9:30 a.m., Angela received a text message from Chico State Alerts, the University’s emergency notification system, stating, “Evacuations underway in Paradise due to Camp Fire. Campus is monitoring closely. Classes are in session. Will we [sic] update within the hour.” This was the only notification Angela received about an evacuation that morning. Friends at Chico State texted Angela to leave Paradise. Jim’s 90-year-old father, Paul, lived across the street. He came over at 10 a.m., and when Angela opened the front door she couldn’t believe her eyes. Butte Creek Canyon was ablaze, and it was eerily silent outside. There were no emergency sirens, no police or fire vehicles, no planes flying overhead.

The lights went out. Angela knew almost immediately she was going to lose the house. She figured she had three or four minutes to grab important legal documents from her safe–naturalization paperwork, property deeds, sentimental items from her and Jim’s military deployments, some jewelry. Angela told Paul to keep an eye out the window for flames while she tried to open the safe. The batteries were dead and the door wouldn’t open. She ran into the garage to find batteries, and when she came back inside the house she saw that the neighbor’s home was fully engulfed. She looked at her father-in-law and said, “Dad, we should leave now.” In one of those strange moments that happen during emergencies, she grabbed a stack of student papers on her way, worried students would be upset if she didn’t return their midterm from the day before. She put Paul into his car, locked the front door, and whispered goodbye to the house and thanked it for all the happy memories.

Angela and Paul, in a caravan, began to make their out of Paradise. At the cross section of Skyway and Russell, a wall of flame blocked one exit route and there was no oncoming traffic coming out of Paradise. Skyway is the main road to exit Paradise and no one was leaving. The street itself looked like it was on fire. She made the decision to drive into the wall of flames. Angela pressed her vehicle into the flames, not seeing where the other side was or how long she would be in the fire. Angela and Paul pressed on through the dark-as-night smoke, flames licking at the windows. She emerged, and Paul came through behind her. She found her husband at a gas station down the hill. They agreed finding a place to stay that night was their top priority, and found an Econolodge in Corning with an available room. Still in shock, Angela went to work at Chico State that day, and then headed to Corning in the afternoon. That hotel became a shelter for Paradise evacuees, eventually housing 86 families, 17 dogs, and 4 cats.

As bad as that day was, Angela recalls the next day as being the worst when they learned the house was burned to the ground. The devastation and loss of life became apparent, and stories of horror—and heroism—emerged. When she was finally allowed back to see her house on December 21, she was elated to find the safe still intact, but with no way to access its contents. That elation turned to another blow when Jim tore his Achilles tendon while trying to remove the safe from the house.

A year later, Angela knows of at least one Chico state alum still living in his car, while others are living through the heat of summer and the cold of winter in their RVs. Another alum lives with four children in a trailer. Recovery is moving in slow motion in Paradise. Only nine houses have been rebuilt, out of 13,000 destroyed. No more than 3,000 out of the 26,000 residents have returned. Angela and her husband have eight insurance claims to wade through, while still living in temporary housing and trying to figure out how to rebuild at the new normal in this area, $330+ per square foot.

In spite of all this, Angela remembers the generosity of Chico State the most. The Chico State Alerts text message that she says saved her life. The hosted Thanksgiving dinner on campus. The faculty who helped her recover, especially Hyung Jung Kim who brought blankets and toys for kids at the hotel, and Jim Downing for spending many hours helping to clear burned trees. Numerous business faculty donated to their colleagues and students and covered classes for her, and sometimes just cried with her.

This month, as we mark this somber anniversary, Angela and the many other College of Business faculty, students, and staff impacted by the Camp Fire are still on the road to recovery. Being part of a caring community of professionals has been a lifeline for a life upended.

From our College of Business family to yours, we wish you a joyous Thanksgiving, and we thank you once again for your generous support for the important work we do.

Terence Lau
Dean, College of Business