Woman who escaped 2018 Camp Fire just before son’s birth is forced to flee another California wildfire while pregnant again

When 24-year-old Arielle Penick fled her home in Oroville, California, from the Thompson Fire Tuesday, she says it brought back memories of evacuating Paradise during the 2018 Camp Fire.

“We just see a pummel of smoke in the sky. And the PTSD from the Camp Fire kicked in instantly, especially with how big the cloud of smoke was,” Penick said.

The Camp Fire was the deadliest wildfire in California’s history. Before the Maui fires, it was the deadliest wildfire in the US in more than a century as well, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

On Tuesday around 2:30 p.m. PT, Penick packed up her things in Oroville with her 5-year-old son, her fiancé and her fiancé’s two kids. The family is among the thousands of residents evacuated as the Thompson Fire continues to burn in Butte County, just about 20 miles south of Paradise.

“By then, you could just see the cloud of smoke right there behind my house. And it started to get orange,” Penick said. “We gathered as much stuff as we could. Our three dogs, our dog crates, all the dog food, my kids’ favorite toys, all their diapers and wipes, their favorite bedding, their chairs.”

After the Camp Fire, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) reached an $11 billion settlement with insurance companies and admitted it was “probable” that its equipment started the 2018 Camp Fire.

Penick is one of the people who received settlement money. She has received one payment so far, and she used it to pay for her car and the rent on her Oroville house in advance, she told CNN.

“It’s scary. It’s sad. I’ve worked hard to try and find this house. And the fact that the Camp Fire is the only way that I got this house with that settlement, and for it to just be gone again would just be devastating to me,” she said.

Penick also just found out she’s pregnant, just like she was when she had to flee the Camp Fire in 2018.

“I was almost seven and a half months pregnant with my son Andrew. And he’s five now,” she recalled. “And there was five of us, two dogs and a cat … and not one of us had a car. And so we were walking, and we walked for almost a mile. And some guy in a big white truck named Butch, he picked us up and he put us in the bed of his truck. Seeing my big old pregnant belly, he said ‘get in.’”

She found out her house burned down about six or seven weeks later. She had lived in Paradise her entire life.

When they went back to visit the house, there wasn’t much left.

“I found a little porcelain teacup that I had, that was buried underneath some stuff that didn’t really break – the handle broke, but the cup didn’t,” she said. “All my baby stuff, my original ultrasounds from my pregnancy were burned. All the stuff I had for my son. I was supposed to have my baby shower on November 11th, and the Camp Fire happened on the 8th so I didn’t even get to have my baby shower.”

She said it’s stressful being pregnant during another evacuation.

“I’m stressing. Every day is stress,” she said. “I’m supposed to be having my first appointment in Oroville on Friday, but now my doctor’s office is closed due to the fire.”

Penick is currently staying at the house of a friend who also lived through the Camp Fire.

“She’s like my support system. She’s a Camp Fire survivor as well. We’ve been friends for a good almost 10 to 15 years.”

Penick is waiting to hear more about her Oroville house. On Wednesday morning, she heard that her road was closed and that her house doesn’t have power.

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