A CASTLETOWNBERE woman has been left homeless by the devastating fires in California last week.
Zita Harrington described the Carr fire as ‘armageddon’ , saying she was lucky to escape alive, along with her five children – aged from 23 months to 17 years.
But Zita, a single mum of six, was still working as a paramedic in Fall River, helping others who have been devastated by the fires, just hours after she was herself left without a home.
The West Cork woman has been living in California since 2000. Her eldest son is in the navy and wasn’t at home in California this week.
Zita told The Southern Star this week that she feels very lucky to have escaped – such was the ferocity of the fires that came upon them without warning.
‘If we had been in our beds asleep we would have all been killed,’ said Zita. ‘This fire has actually being going on since a week last Monday and it started miles and miles away from us, up by a place called Whiskeytown Lake.’
Zita said she got home last Thursday morning and there was no sign of the fire coming and no evacuation notices given by the police.
‘It looked like the fire was miles away, across the river. But within two or three minutes while we drove home, it suddenly got darker and I knew it was coming. The police arrived then to tell people to get out immediately.’
Zita and her children ran into their house and grabbed some clothes, while one of them grabbed a photograph of Zita’s late father, which she said meant so much to her.
‘We jumped back into our car with the few bits we had and I looked to my left to the bottom of my street, which was our only way out. All I could see was a wall of flames on the other side of the road. The kids were totally panicked and I told them to pray while I floored it. There was a line of cars ahead of us. The only way out was to drive through a dirt road as all the other roads were blocked.’
The family sought refuge in Shasta College, which became an evacuation centre for those left homeless by the fires. ‘We registered with the Red Cross there and it was really hard trying to contain Quinn, my youngest, who is only 23 months, as well as the others,’ said Zita.
Despite all the trauma, she managed to go back to work on Sunday as a paramedic to help other staff who were tied up in the fire crisis.
‘I went to the fire briefing the next day and was told that this fire is like nothing anyone has seen before. As well as fire tornados, there were huge trees lifted out of the ground, which landed on power lines and houses.’
Thankfully, Zita has been given temporary accommoda in Fall River, five minutes from where she works. They are sleeping on air mattresses in an unfurnished house.
‘The main thing is that we have a roof over our heads and we are safe. It’s hard for my kids as they’ve lost everything. They’ve lost their home, their stuff and even their schools.’
While Zita admits she’s had her bad moments since last week, she is finding a way to move forward for her children.
‘The support from my community here and from people in Ireland with even virtual hugs and Facebook messages means so much to me. I haven’t seen my family in 12 years and would love to be able to come back with my kids and show them the area.’
For now, though, Zita’s priority is getting a home for her kids and trying to somehow put a bit of normality back into their lives. ‘I thought we were safe and when it hits you like this, it’s actually surreal.’
A GoFundMe page has been set up to support Zita and her family, with the target of ,000 halfway reached by the time of going to press.
‘The support is absolutely phenomenal and when you’ve got nothing, it means so much,’ said Zita.