For years, the Sierra Nevada foothill town of Paradise, California, lived up to its name. This hospitable Butte County hamlet was characterized by sunny skies, charming wooded lots and scenic winding roads.
According to the LA Times, local fire history maps dating back to 1911 indicate nearly 46 percent of Butte County’s hilly terrain has been seared by fire at some point. That’s another detail that made Paradise rather unique.
The LA Times explains that until 2018, this ridge town had never seen a blaze cross over into its actual city limits.
Then came the savage Camp Fire, which began burning on Nov. 8.
Phil John, chairman of the Paradise Ridge Fire Safe Council, told the LA Times that there had simply been no way to fully prepare for an inferno of this magnitude. “Unless you had some kind foresight to say there’s going to be a big fire and it’s going to jump the creek, and it’s going to burn down the whole town,” he said.
By the time Veterans Day rolled around on Nov. 11, Paradise had been virtually scorched off the map. The mammoth blaze had sent nearly 26,000 ridge residents fleeing for their lives, as the unprecedented death toll continued to climb.
Lee Brundige was one of the locals who frantically attempted to drive himself to safety. Inside Edition reports that the 93-year-old World War II veteran witnessed raging flames engulfing his entire neighborhood.
Brundige told Inside Edition that he couldn’t even say whether his own home survived the onslaught. Judging from tragic pictures posted online, it’s fair to say chances are slim.
Fortunately, the elderly veteran got himself to an evacuation center in Oroville, roughly 20 miles south of Paradise. He wasn’t sure where to go from there, but planned to sleep in his car.
That’s when Brundige met Tracy Grant, as she distributed free hamburgers to fellow evacuees. She held out a burger to Brundige, but he told her to save it for someone who needed it more.
Grant was immediately concerned about the elderly gentleman. She invited him to follow her home, saying that she and her boyfriend would welcome him as their guest.
“I tried to get him to come home with me the first night and he said, ‘No, my lady days are long gone,”’ Grant told Inside Edition.
But Grant was gently persistent. “My instinct was, ‘He’s not staying here another night by himself and I’m not taking him to a shelter, and I’m not letting him go with another stranger,” she explained. Her worry was that someone might try to take advantage of Brundige.
Eventually, the resilient soldier conceded. Since then, he’s been living with Grant, her boyfriend and their dogs.
Grant’s boyfriend, Josh Fox, now insists that Brundige is more than welcome to stay indefinitely. In fact, one of the dogs already keeps their new guest company on the recliner.
“These people are angels to me,” Brundige told Inside Edition. “They bought me clothes and everything. I don’t know how I’m going to thank them, but I’m going to try.”
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