Paradise Drug managers Shaun and Amber faced one of the most traumatic situations anyone can imagine this past year when they were directly and dramatically affected by the California wild fires. IPC recently spoke with them both to find out the details of what they went through and how they survived as a pharmacy family. Not only was Paradise Drug burned to the ground, but Amber also lost her family home. The pharmacy staff and local community came together in an amazing way to help recover from the emergency situation.
We spoke with both Shaun and Amber about their timeline on the day of the fire.
“I was on my way to work and I noticed a huge plume of smoke close to Paradise (the pharmacy), it looked like a bomb went off. I called Amber to make sure she was okay, and she thought the fire at that time was about 20 miles away from her home and the pharmacy. I asked her to grab the server from the store if she was able to go in, otherwise if it was too risky not to even worry about it.
The next time I talked to her she sounded panicked, so I told her to get out of the area ASAP, but she said she was able to grab the server. After a while when I hadn’t heard anything from her I started to get very concerned. When I finally did talk to her I could tell things were getting crazy. She had left 40 minutes ago but she was still right near the pharmacy and not able to get out of the area. She mentioned that cars were driving erratically all over the place and motorcycles were driving on sidewalks, everyone was trying to get out of the area. We have known each other for many years; she’s like my little sister so I was very concerned about her well-being and how she was going to get out of the danger area.”
Meanwhile, the store was burning to the ground; eventually there was nothing left.
The current owners have had the store (Paradise Pharmacy) since 1986, and they own another location nearby in Chico, CA. Shaun was at Chico Pharmacy on the day of the fire and they started filling the Paradise prescriptions the same day for patients who had fled without their medication.
“I was at home around 7:45 in the morning with my family, and on one side of our house the sky was blue, the other side was black. We had seen other fires before but this was something different. Then it started to sound like it was raining but it was actually ash. I wanted to run up to the pharmacy to get the server, that had always been our emergency plan. I called the employees and told them not to come in while I figured out what exactly was going on.
Suddenly things got crazy, big logs were on fire – basically flying through the air and landing on the ground. It was like straight out of a movie. I grabbed the server and started to head back home but both sides of the road were on fire. I called my husband and luckily, he hadn’t gone to work so he took my daughter and pets and was able to start heading to Chico, about 20 minutes away. They were able to make it there safely so that’s the direction I started heading. For 2 and a half hours I didn’t move because traffic was just at a dead stop. The pharmacy caught on fire in front of me.
Paradise pharmacy has been my home for 17 years, I have worked there for longer than any other home I’ve lived in. I was on the phone with Shaun while I was stuck in totally insane traffic; even the window washer fluid couldn’t keep the ash off my windshield. It was full-on chaos up and down the road and it felt like the world was coming to an end. From 9/9:30 till noon I was trapped in one area of the road watching cars just shut down and traffic came to a stop. I didn’t know if I should start running or stay in my car. The explosions were intense, the trees were exploding and they sounded like bombs going off.\
I was asking Shaun ‘at what point do I decide to run? When do I leave the car?’ I realized I had to get out of there and I found a side street. I really didn’t know if I was going to get out of the situation alive or not. I had to make that kind of peace with myself, and call everyone I could think of to let them know I love them.
The side street I eventually thought of and found had nobody else on it, so I wasn’t sure if it was the right decision to take that road or not. The sky was so dark black, you couldn’t see much of anything. As I went to turn down the road I tried to get some cars to follow me, so I wouldn’t be the only one, and was hoping I could lead them out as well. Three or four cars followed me and we all took a few turns on side streets to make it out of Paradise, which we luckily were able to do eventually.
I have known my customers for so long and it was heartbreaking to know that some of them were in situations where they might not get out.
My family was waiting for me in Chico and when I finally had the chance to get there, the fires were shifting, and I couldn’t get into town; couldn’t get to them. I had driven on these roads so many times, but I was in such a panic I didn’t even feel like I knew where I was. My cell phone was on the verge of dying. I was trying to make a plan and, in the meantime, I went to Walmart in case I had to sleep in my car. I got blankets, snacks, a toothbrush, just things I would need to get through the night.
My husband and daughter were headed to my sister’s house, but I was still trapped with no direction in all the chaos. Luckily an old friend pulled up and helped me find my way to my family.
My pets were also okay, we had recently had a fire drill at our home, so my family knew exactly what to grab to protect the animals and get all the photos/keepsakes out of the house in time. That was very lucky for us because we were never able to go back to our house, it was completely lost in the fire.
Since the fire, we were living at my sisters for quite a while, and now we got a new place with my in-laws. We had previously been living in the house my husband grew up in and his parents lived in a smaller, guest house on the property. So many memories were in that house and it’s so devastating to my husband and his family that it’s gone. My husband’s father built the home and my husband had lived there since he was four. It’s the only home my husband ever knew, and he was there his whole life. It’s so sad that he had to lose such a big part of his life/history.
Soon, we are moving back to Paradise. I am always prepared for an emergency, and I don’t feel scared – I just feel lucky.
Shaun and I were able to get Paradise drugs back open 20 days after the fire. Working and opening the pharmacy was a great distraction to get me back into reality and not dwell on all the loss and damages.
Having the two locations made it so much easier to cover for our patients. The fact that we were able to keep the server was crucial for keeping patient records, info etc. We didn’t want all our patients to have to find a new pharmacy or go elsewhere, and now we’ve all been through this together and survived so we’re all in the same boat and understand what each other has been through.”
Because Amber miraculously recovered the server from Paradise and was able to eventually get it to Chico, they were able to retain customer records and files. Within a month they had a temporary location setup for Paradise, in a medical supply location across the parking lot from the Chico store. They built the temporary pharmacy there and are hoping within another month to open back up in Paradise.
The pharmacy family at Paradise and Chico have been through so much, we wish them the best of luck on their rebuilding and recovery. Their story is truly inspirational, and we thank for them for sharing, in hopes that it inspires people to make a plan for emergency/worst case scenario situations.