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Walla Walla, WA
Friday, December 8, 2023

Too Close for Comfort

May 4, 2023
Nicholas Humphries

Students Who Escaped the Deadly Camp Fire

Nicholas Humphries

Wildfires are some of the most destructive natural disasters to occur. As fires become more common, many Walla Walla University students are forced to see and breathe smoke in the air. But many WWU students have not only inhaled the smoke but have been in morbidly close proximity to the fires, some nearly escaping with their lives. The Collegian interviewed WWU students who have been in these harrowing experiences. 

On November 8, 2018, a hook for a transmission line run by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) snapped. This event started a fire now known as the Camp Fire, named after Camp Creek Road, its place of origin. [1] The fire eventually destroyed the town of Paradise, California, leaving few structures standing, and was responsible for the deaths of 85 people. Emily Kitto and Jaron Brown were two students who dealt with the devastating fire that destroyed their homes and town. 

On the morning of November 8, many people were getting ready to go to school or work. PG&E let residents of Paradise and the surrounding communities know that their power would be cut due to high windstorms. However, electricity was running through many homes, which caused people to believe something was wrong. Additionally, there was lots of smoke in the air.  

Kitto said, “It was 8 o’clock in the morning and the sky looked like it was 10 p.m.” [2] 

People began to leave town soon after. As Kitto was leaving, she could see fire on both sides of the road. “That was pretty scary because you could feel the warmth of the fire on both sides of the car, but my mom was grateful because she couldn’t see taillights, which meant no one was stopping,” Kitto described. Eventually, Kitto made it to a family member’s house in Chico with her mom and siblings, but the whereabouts of her father were unknown. [3] 

At this time, Brown also had to evacuate quickly. He hooked up his family’s camper filled with their animals, clothes, and his family, and drove to his cousin’s house in Chico, California. He had never driven the camper before and was initially stuck in the driveway before hitting the gas and removing a tree in the process. The traffic was so horrific that the drive took three hours instead of the normal 30 minutes. [4] 

At times, not all family members were together. Kitto’s father was a veterinarian who briefly separated from his family to rush to his practice and pick up leashes, his dove, and the computer server. At times, he feared that exploding propane tanks outside his car would force him to abandon his vehicle. [5] 

Brown’s dad, who was a chaplain for the Feather River Hospital, was evacuating patients in the ICU. “My dad ended up calling and basically said, ‘I don’t know if I am going to make it out alive, so I love you.’” [6] This was especially emotionally taxing for Brown because he had lost his mother to cancer five months prior. He was unsure if he would have parents at the end of this situation. 

Eventually, both Kitto and Brown were reunited with their parents. 

A California national guardsman stands next to a burned vehicle.

There were also meaningful experiences that came from the fire. One such experience was a volleyball game where students who were playing against the Paradise SDA school gathered over $16,000 in cash, gift cards, and clothes in under 24 hours and donated it to the students from Paradise who were affected by the fire. [7] Additionally, Kitto said the fire prompted her to join WWU as a student since her community college was destroyed. [8] 

Students at WWU have experienced unique, life changing events, and the Camp Fire is no different. Though the losses are immeasurable, the students are always resilient. 



  1. Blunt, K. (2022). Inside the investigation that secured a guilty plea for 84 wildfire deaths. The Wall Street Journal.
  2. Interview with Emily Kitto, 4/24/2023. 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Interview with Jaron Brown, 4/25/2023. 
  5. Interview with Emily Kitto, 4/24/2023. 
  6. Interview with Jaron Brown, 4/25/2023. 
  7. Benda, D. (2018). This team had uniforms, gift cards after a Paradise girls volleyball team lost everything in the Camp Fire. Record Searchlight.
  8. Interview with Emily Kitto, 4/24/2023. 



  1. The remains of a building burned in the Camp Fire. From Wikipedia.
  2. A California national guardsman stands next to a burned vehicle. From Wikipedia.
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