After Fleeing From the Fire in Paradise, a Family Chooses To Rebuild Their Lives In Humboldt County
A young family who lost their home and all of their possessions decided to relocate to the Eureka area after the destructive Camp Fire raced through their town east of Chico. As the Goupil family of Paradise begins to rebuild their lives, they face new challenges in Humboldt County.
Danny Goupil and his wife Janell say they are just thankful to be alive and together with their three kids and three dogs. Almost three weeks after the start of the deadliest fire in California is history, thousands of Paradise families are still finding themselves without resources or housing.
Danny and Janell say they had always thought about moving to the coast from Butte County, and after having their honeymoon in Trinidad, the couple had a soft spot for Humboldt County. The family of eight (five humans and three dogs) came to Eureka after making a plan to relocate.
The morning of November 8th began almost like any other, with the exception of a warning about fire danger in the area. PG&E had been periodically warning resident about possible power shut-offs due to concerns of ‘fire danger’ in the area. The power remained on and Jannel went out the door as usual to manage the family restaurant in Magalia, Jaki’s Hilltop Cafe. Luckily, the two big brothers Bradlee and Rilee were out of harm’s way in another town, safe from the fire.
It was mid-breakfast when it became obvious that they all needed to get out while they still had a chance. The emergency evacuation was such short notice that they were barely able to escape at all. There was no planned evacuation process. Many people did not even know there was an evacuation order.
As they recounted their story, describing flames enveloping structures surrounding them, smoke “like a volcano” and traffic jams that created deadly kettling of residents in cars attempting to all escape at the same time, the sense of relief in the couple was palpable. The two parents were evacuated separately as the emergency effort to clear the city got underway, with Janelle at the restaurant and her husband Danny at home with the 11-month-old baby and three big dogs.Danny Goupil took a quick video from the outside of their home, just before driving away. He explained that all he could do was grab his dogs, his guns, some money, a few things for his boys. Then he quickly put the baby in a laundry basket with some clothes and loaded into the truck as fast as he could.
Raw video of Paradise before evacuation taken by Dan Goupil on November 8th, next door to the Paradise High School, at 8:15 in the morning as he prepared to evacuate.
As his elderly mother got separated in the caravan behind Dan, she called him in a panic. His mother described being stuck in traffic attempting to all flee the encroaching fire, she screamed to him about the flames, the unbearable heat and the terror of seeing neighbors running from the flames, and people caught on fire running around her vehicle.
Danny told his mom to punch it, and that she couldn’t help those people who were on fire.
Listen to Danny recount the details of their escape, and how they barely made it out.
He explained the terrifying ordeal of attempting to evacuate in a rush, while guiding his mother out of the now infamous escape route down Skyway Road over the phone, and even detouring to rescue an elderly couple and their cat from burning alive.
Dan Goupil shares his thoughts after getting out alive and explains how he was able to rescue an elderly couple on his way out of the blazing inferno that was Paradise. [Interviews and video provided by Ryan Hutson]
The family of five has been counting their blessings and moving forward regardless of having lost nearly everything but each other in the Camp Fire’s devastation. They were able to regroup together after their separate evacuation experiences, going to Janell’s cousin’s home in a neighboring county, and being gifted clothing by the Goodwill and daily supplies from total strangers, as well as from family not living in Paradise.
Danny and Janell have been keeping focused on moving forward, saying they are very concerned about how this catastrophe will impact the two older boys, now relocating to an entirely new community after being raised in Paradise. They say they are determined to make this a positive step forward, wanting to set an example for the kids, to show that perseverance and hope is a priority in difficult times.
Thousands of former residents of Paradise and surrounding areas are now scattered across the northern part of the state and even farther attempting to find housing. Thousands of people are still stuck looking for temporary housing outside of Butte County due to the lack of available housing options there.The couple reflected on the idea of going back to Paradise, where almost none of the other businesses survived, and many of their customers from the popular family restaurant surely did not. They wanted to start fresh. After all, having to rebuild and fix the restaurant seemed a daunting task, and one the family had just accomplished after a grease fire gutted the building last year. They had only been re-opened for 30 days when the Camp Fire took everything.
In the hope of finding relief from the trauma of their harrowing escape and building a fresh start on the coast, the family of five set their plans in motion. They decided on Humboldt County. They looked for a rental unit, they applied for jobs, and they enrolled their older boys in school.
After coordinating with the landlord, the family arrived at the rental, finding a small but completely furnished space that would house them comfortably.
Having already spoken with the owner about the required rent, as well as the family’s current evacuee status, dogs and all, the Goupils said they believed that this was being offered as a solution until they could find a more ideal location for the family. The availability of this rental unit was a main factor in deciding to make the journey up the coast to Eureka.
Upon inspection, Janell approved of the kitchen and proceeded to make the call to finalize the deal. Instead of being welcomed to regroup there, as they supposed would be the case after working out a payment method, they were told by the landlord that the rental deposit would need to be double what was quoted previously.Even under these trying circumstances, after much planning and several previous conversations with the landlord over the course of the week, the Goupil family was now being told that dog hair was a concern and that it would only take one crayon for the baby to ruin the walls. As the sun set on them outside the would-be home, the tentative arrangements made to rent the small furnished unit unraveled at the last minute.
Listening to the landlord retract the offer, any sense of relief the exhausted parents had gained that day was instantly gone. Janell took a moment to grieve what felt like another loss, then she and Dan loaded the family back into their Toyota.The next stop was back into Eureka where Janell had arranged to apply for a job opening, not in a restaurant as a manager or server, but in retail, because going back to food industry service seemed too soon. “Just something simple,” to get the bills paid, she explained. As they barely made it before closing time, she was grateful to be welcomed by a sympathetic local business owner, who then assisted in helping make plans to get relief for the dogs on a friendly local ranch where they could romp and play freely.
Danny Goupil was fortunate enough to get hired right away by a local restaurant and has been going to work already, while Janell is looking forward to getting word back from her applications soon. The two boys, ages eight and nine are enrolled in school, scheduled to begin on today, and already looking forward to joining sports teams locally. Baby Rhet, meanwhile, is still enjoying the birthday presents he got just last week, when he had his first birthday surrounded by family at Jannell’s cousin’s house.
Since the morning of November 8th, their family has had to rely on the generosity of others to survive, including total strangers, Goodwill donations and the GoFundMe page that has been a huge blessing. As Dan Goupil explained, every single thing they have now, every item of clothing, was all donated to them by strangers.
A GoFundMe page set up byDan’s sister states, “Danny and Janell Goupil lost everything in the Paradise Fire Nov. 8, 2018. They barely got out with their lives. They have three children and are much loved in the area because of the family business, Jaki’s Hilltop Cafe in Magalia. We can’t help everyone, but perhaps we can help someone like this wonderful family.”
The serious lack of short term or long term housing available in Butte County has forced many people into neighboring counties, seeking out RV parks, campgrounds and motels wherever they are available. Many of the evacuees from the area do not have access to bank cards, cash, or basic identification–all being lost to the fire. The Goupil family was lucky to have escaped with their lives, and are waiting to see what FEMA can offer them.
Dan and Janell Goupil are reachable via their GoFundMe account, and are in need of immediate shelter, financial support, and living supplies for the foreseeable future, while they actively regroup in Humboldt County.
Note: The Goupils’ name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.