By Daniel TorokNovember 22, 2019
PARADISE, Calif. - Are we going to die?
With less than five minutes to evacuate, Sgt. Shane Mininger, assigned to the California Army National Guard, raced to his car and made a split decision to drive to higher ground where Clark Road met Skyway-a gamble that would either lead to safety or prove fatal. Behind him blew the ashes of his new home, his uniforms, and all his memories. Within moments, everything he owned was reduced to a smoldering pile.
Nothing could brace Mininger for the fiery maelstrom that rapidly descended into Paradise. Camp Fire devoured daylight into a dark abyss with cinder rains hailing from heaven. "There was no way out," remembers Mininger. Cal Fire announced, "all roads closed." There was only one option for the desperate left atop Paradise-survive.
A large parking lot upwind, with an unbuilt storefront in the middle, was their only option. It would provide a safe enough distance from the flames while sheltering the majority throughout the worst of the fire now howling around them at 50 mph.
Beaten down by the relentless heat, firefighters used what little water they had left in their trucks to keep this lot clear. Hydrants, bone dry, let out a hiss. Power lines propelled like suspended tentacles. Cars pooled into liquid metal.
Would this become a brick and mortar mausoleum?
The sergeant relied on his years of Army experience to support the people all around him. Unlike his deployment to Iraq, Paradise was home! Mininger explained his scenario in three missions.
Mission one: keep everyone calm
Through the wails of the distressed, Mininger quietly went car to car and ensured everyone they would be safe and that he was there to help them.
Mission two: never quit
Mininger showed personal courage that outshined even the darkest of hours. If he quit, hope would be lost. Hope was all the people of Paradise had left.
Mission three: leave no one behind
Gather up all the foldable chairs from a nearby store.
"It took us three hours to get everyone out of their vehicles," said Mininger. "There were a lot of people that couldn't walk." With blackout conditions and a contingent of immobile citizens, the rescuers needed to get resourceful. Mininger and the first responders unfolded chairs from a nearby store, carried them over to stranded vehicles, and extricated the people inside. "We would do a four-man lift and carry them, walk them down the hill into this parking lot, where we could go back for more." Mininger choked up, "you never expect it to happen in your hometown... but here we are."
Cal Fire crews saw a small window and punched through the swallowing smoke. They were able to clear the road long enough to shuttle the stranded to safety. After fighting for an entire day, Mininger's mission came to an end.
Walking Paradise a few days later, all that remained were unburned American flags placed out for Veterans Day, mottled red, white, and blue proudly juxtaposed through a smothering brown hue. It was clear that Mininger's assistance saved the lives of many. He is a resident that every community would long for, but to us, he's family.