Japanese Couple Survives Devastating Fire in Paradise

Tomoyo and Shigeo Kojima with their three dogs.


Tomoyo and Shigeo Kojima recount escape from Camp Fire on Nov. 8.

By JUNKO YOSHIDA RAFU JAPANESE SECTION WRITER

First of two parts.

“I came to America with one suitcase and it’s been 30 years. I got one restaurant, two houses and everything I want. However, I lost everything in a few hours,” said Tomoyo Kojima.

The Camp Fire broke out in Paradise, Butte County, on Nov. 8 and burnt the entire community at a frightening pace.

Paradise residents Tomoyo and Shigeo Kojima were forced to flee from their home. They ran a Japanese restaurant in the small town and the wildfire destroyed not only their restaurant but also their two homes. They talked to **The Rafu Shimpo** about the Camp Fire and their frightening experience.

++The Day That Changed Their Lives++

“I woke up and enjoyed coffee time while watching TV news. I spent the morning like always on Nov. 8,” Tomoyo recalled.

At that time, they never expected that a massive wildfire was approaching them.

The town of Paradise, with a population of 27,000, is located about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco. Surrounded by nature, it was literally like “paradise.” Many retirees from the Bay Area moved to the town.

Tomoyo is originally from Chiba Prefecture and Shigeo comes from Fukushima Prefecture. They ran Ikkyu Japanese Restaurant in Paradise, which was a popular hangout for locals.

Using her phone, Tomoyo Kojima shot this photo of the fires near her home at 8:14 am on November 8


On Nov. 8, Shigeo went to the restaurant for food preparation around 7:30 a.m. as usual. Right after he left home, he called Tomoyo and told her, “Something is wrong…”

Tomoyo looked outside and she noticed that it was really dark outside with ash falling from the sky. Fires are frequent in Paradise because the town is surrounded by nature, so she thought, “Maybe fire broke out somewhere in the town” and didn’t worry about it.

In less than 30 minutes, the situation completely changed. The sky was getting darker and burning ash started falling. But they hadn’t received any warning or notification about an emergency.

“Don’t tell me fire is coming to my home,” Tomoyo thought, anxiously.

Suddenly something orange came into her view and she realized that something was happening that made her not believe her own eyes. Their backyard started burning. She put out the fire with a water hose and noticed that it was extremely dry outside.

“I called my husband and told him that he should come back home immediately,” she said.

By this time, the Camp Fire had started burning the town with strong winds and extremely dry air.

Thirty minutes later, Shigeo came back home. However, the road in front of their house was crowded. There were three roads left for them to evacuate from Paradise — Skyway, Clark Road and Pentz Road. Taking these roads, people can evacuate to the next town, Chico, which is a 20-minute drive from Paradise.

Pentz Road is in front of their house, but traffic from the fire scene so traffic was extremely heavy and they couldn’t go out on the road. They felt anxious and afraid. While waiting to evacuate, they poured water on the roof.

Eventually, the fire spread to the evacuees’ cars and to the house next door.

“WE MUST GO NOW! ” They still couldn’t start evacuating, since traffic at a standstill and the scene was chaotic.

A couple minutes later, sheriff’s deputies started guiding their vehicle. They put their three Doberman pinschers in their two cars and finally left their home.

Using her phone, Tomoyo Kojima shot this photo of the fires near her home at 9:57 am on Nov. 8.