The death toll in last November's Camp Fire just rose by one after 72-year-old Paul Ernest of Paradise succumbed to complications from burns that he got trying to escape the fire with his wife. Ernest had been hospitalized ever since the fire.
As Ernest's son Jessee tells the Associated Press, Ernest "put up a really good fight," but in the end had trouble keeping his lungs functioning. Ernest suffered burns on one third of his body, just as his wife did, though she is now recovering at home in Chico.
The fire that broke out just outside of Paradise, California on November 8 all but leveled the small, bohemian retirement community, and many residents described the chaos of trying to flee the fire with roads that were blocked by fallen trees and abandoned vehicles. That was the problem for Paul Ernest and his wife Suzie, who ended up trying to escape on ATVs along with a neighbor, and then had to take shelter from flames behind a boulder.
"My dad tried to cover my mom as much as he could but they said it was just a wall of fire torching over them," Jessee Ernest tells the AP.
The death toll is not likely to rise any further, though one woman still remains on the list of those missing after the fire. 51-year-old Sara Martinez-Fabila may not have been in town on the day of the fire, and may be residing elsewhere, but authorities have yet to determine her whereabouts.
The fire ultimately destroyed more than 11,500 homes and was the deadliest fire in California history. And today we know it was the deadliest by one more life.
Rebuilding in Paradise, meanwhile, proceeds slowly. In May, the Chronicle described it as still looking like "a postapocalyptic wasteland," and due to hazardous waste cleanup, many of the burned lots won't be ready for construction until next year. Total insured losses are estimated at around $8.3 billion.