"We sat there and watched as the whole thing burned. You couldn't tell where you were," said Joanie Bernardin, a Paradise resident.
Bernardin is a 95-year-old lady and has lived in Paradise for 48 years. She lost a house that she lived for six years to Camp Fire on Thursday, a wildfire in Northern California that has claimed 42 lives and burned more than 113,000 acres as of 7 p.m. on Nov. 12. It's the deadliest and most destructive fire in the state's history. Bernardin said nothing like this has happened before in Paradise.
"It was the most [hellish] I have ever been through," she said. "I got a little taste of hell. I will tell you. I don't want to go there."
On Thursday morning, Bernardin got an evacuation call. She could see fire scenes down the street from her bedroom, so she and her husband decided to leave with their dog. Bernardin hopped in the couple's Honda, and her husband drove a motorhome.
When Bernardin left and was heading north, she was met with hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic. She said she spent three hours to drive through a distance that ordinarily only takes 10 minutes.
The 95-year-old said there were fires on both sides of her car and wind rolling 60 miles per hour. She said it was so smoggy that she could not see anything, and everything was burning and sparking around her.
"I thought this is it. I am gonna die in a fire," Bernardin said. "And I said 'dear Lord, help me, help me, help my husband. We need to get out of here.'"
After spending three hours to drive about a mile, a firefighter asked her and her husband to turn around and to go to another hospital, only 5 minutes away. Bernardin said she really appreciated the firefighter's tip that saved her time and potentially saved her life.
However, Bernardin said the hospital quickly became unsafe, and they had to leave by taking a hospital van. On the way, she saw houses burned to the ground, and she could not tell where she was. The car was so hot, "it was like a summer day with no air," she said. There was also no cell phone signal for the whole time.
Bernardin and her husband arrived at a hospital Oroville, where their daughter picked them up. The 95-year-old then heard from her neighbors that her house in Paradise had burned down.
She wishes that she could have taken some things she left behind: her address book, a trophy that belonged to her mother and her sisters' needlepoint.
"I had those pictures hanging on the bedroom wall," Bernardin said. "I couldn't take them. I couldn't get them down. I had to get out."
Bernardin said the important part is that in addition to herself, her husband and her dog came out alive. She decided to move to Oregon, where she has a lot of family members there. They are looking for a house in Oregon.
"We will be okay. We will be back. We had great insurance. My husband really did a good job on that," she said.
Correction: In a previous version of this story, we said Joanie Bernardin lost a house she lived for 48 years. We later learned that she lived in Paradise for 48 years, but she had lived in the house that was burned down in this fire for six years. The change is made on Nov.13 6:20 a.m.