PARADISE, Calif. — Katina Scalia had no idea when she woke up Thursday morning that everything she and her family owned would be reduced to ashes within hours.
Scalia, an Akron-area native and 2009 Revere High School graduate, lives in Magalia, Calif., just north of Paradise, the epicenter of a raging wildfire that has killed at least 48 people, left hundreds unaccounted for and practically wiped the town of 27,000 off the map, according to the Associated Press.
"It's so devastating for so many different people that I just wish that people would pray for everybody out here. There's so many people displaced and … unaccounted for,” Scalia said by phone Monday night from Chico, Calif., where she’s staying with a friend’s family.
As of Tuesday morning, authorities said the fire had charred 192 square miles and was 30 percent contained, according to the AP.
Scalia, 27, moved to Northern California about six years ago with a couple of friends “because everyone thought California was cool” and met the man who would become her fiance and father of her daughter, Paul Dillon Orlando, 28, a Paradise native.
Over the next six years, the couple built a life together. They rented a small yellow house in Magalia, population 11,300, in Northern California, started school and raised their daughter, 3-year-old Adalynn.
Scalia studies biochemistry at California State University, Chico with dreams of becoming a veterinarian. She currently works as a vet tech at Animal Hospital On The Ridge in Paradise. Orlando delivers pizzas and is in a respiratory therapy program at Butte College. Adalynn goes with her dad to the college's daycare.
Thursday was like any other for the family. They all left for school around 7:15 a.m. Scalia saw a lot of smoke on her 30-minute drive and called a friend for information.
"She told me that from what she had read, it was just a small, 10-acre fire, that there was nothing really to worry about,” Scalia said. “By the time I got to school, it was around 8 a.m. (Around) 8:15, I received a call from somebody I work with … She had told me that I needed to try to get up to my house as soon as possible because the whole town was basically on fire."
Scalia tried to get back home to get her dogs, but authorities wouldn’t let her into town. Luckily, two friends broke into the house, which was already filled with smoke, and rescued the family's pets — Bowser, a 6-year-old Rottweiler, and Dexter, an 8-year-old French bulldog.
Because the family didn’t know the fire was coming and couldn't get into town, they had no time to prepare.
“We didn't even get to take a single thing with us,” Scalia said.
The family hasn’t been allowed back into town because of downed power lines and abandoned vehicles blocking the roads, so they haven’t seen what their house looks like with their own eyes. But they have seen photos, taken by a police officer a friend knows.
Their home, the house Adalynn was raised in that they moved into five years ago, is gone. The only recognizable shape is the burnt-out truck parked in front that Scalia used to pull her horse trailer. They've heard unconfirmed rumors that the Paradise pizza shop where Orlando worked also burned down.
"Honestly, it's absolutely heartbreaking,” she said. “I just feel selfish that I even care about my house when … people have lost their lives over this.”
Scalia began to cry as she listed lost belongings: possessions from her dad, who died in 2016; her daughter’s baby pictures; homemade blankets and other items from her grandma.
“Things like that aren't replaceable,” she said. “It's just, words don't really describe how heart-wrenching it is.”
Adalynn lost her pet fish in the fire, too.
“I know it's just fish, but for her, it's something more than that,” Scalia said.
Scalia said her daughter has a general understanding of what’s going on and knows her house burned down.
“She keeps asking why it happened, so I don't think it's easy for her to grasp that,” she said. “I don't think that it's easy for us to grasp it, so I'm not really sure how a 3-year-old can."
Scalia said she and her family need toiletries, along with clothes, books and toys for Adalynn, who wears a size 4T and turns 4 on Dec. 10.
Scalia’s sister started a GoFundMe for the family, that had raised nearly $3,400 of its $10,000 goal as of Monday night.
Scalia said Animal Hospital On The Ridge, where she works, is the only animal hospital still standing in Paradise or Magalia. All patient animals were returned to their owners before the fire, and a vet tech took home the three cats who live in the hospital.
“So we feel pretty lucky about that,” said Scalia, who’s also been volunteering at Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico.
Monday night, Scalia was headed out with a co-worker after getting special permits to meet up with firefighters to evacuate livestock that residents had to leave behind. They used a horse trailer to take animals to the Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley.
In the meantime, the family is searching for a new place to live.
"With 30,000 people displaced from their homes, it's not very easy to find places to live at this point,” she said.
Scalia said they’ll stay in California long enough for her and Orlando to finish school. Orlando graduates next May, and she expects to graduate in two years.
But after graduating, they’ll likely move back to her home state of Ohio.
“I just don't know if I could ever live somewhere where I have to worry about something like this every single summer,” she said.
Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, email@example.com and @EmilyMills818.