The scene out the car window is terrifying. Billowing smoke fills the air, lit up by orange flames reaching out from the roadside. Sirens wail in the darkness, punctuated by the honks of panicked drivers.
Inside, however, it’s calm — there’s just inquisitive commentary from a small child and a dad who is trying to keep her from worrying about the danger outside the car door.
As KTVU News reports, the Allen family from Butte County, California, are just a few of the 52,000 people who were forced to evacuate due to what has been called the “most destructive wildfire in California history.”
The fire started on November 8 in Paradise, California. Since then, it has destroyed more than 6,400 homes. Nine people have died — five of them were found in their cars and had been “overcome” by the fire.
When Joe and Whitney Allen evacuated their home, they had to split up. Mom Whitney took 8-month-old Jordan in one car; dad Joe took 3-year-old daughter Olivia in another. Whitney told KTVU it was a stressful drive for both of them:
“He was of course worried. At one point we both thought we weren’t going to make it out.”
Joe’s journey with his daughter was captured on video, and Whitney later posted that video to Facebook. She told KTVU that Joe is retired military and accustomed to dealing with high-stress situations. That’s obvious as you listen to the experienced dad try to keep his daughter calm as they drive through the chaos.
Olivia is obviously worried about the fire she can see through the car window, but Joe assures here, “We’re not going to catch on fire, OK? We’re going to stay away from it, and we’ll be just fine. We’re doing alright.”
He even sings to her, crooning an impromptu “baby, it will be alright” to reassure the frightened girl.
When Olivia worries that she can’t see her mom, he continues to comfort her and assure her that they’ll all get through it fine. And though you can tell that the drive is taking its toll on Joe’s nerves, he doesn’t crack when Olivia asks to turn around and go home. He only says:
“We’re going to get out of here. And we’ll come back when it’s more Princess Poppy.”
When they finally get past the fire line, both father and daughter cheer.
“You did it!” Olivia tells her dad.
“We did it together,” he responds.
Once the family was safely reunited, they were able to celebrate Olivia’s third birthday together.
The Allens say they probably do not have a home to return to, as their town was decimated by the fire. Friends have started a GoFundMe page to help the family rebuild.
Whitney told KTVU that the experience was a reminder of what they should value most of all:
“As our lives drastically changed today, we are reminded what is most important. Tonight we celebrated Olivia’s birthday because even though we lost everything today and so did my family… we didn’t lose each other and that is truly what matters.”