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Chico State student loses mother and Paradise home during the Camp Fire

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Chico State student loses mother and Paradise home during the Camp Fire

Chico State student Christina Taft lost her mother in their Paradise home during the Camp Fire. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Chico State student Christina Taft lost her mother in their Paradise home during the Camp Fire. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Chico State student Christina Taft lost her mother in their Paradise home during the Camp Fire. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Chico State student Christina Taft lost her mother in their Paradise home during the Camp Fire. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Yaritza Ayon

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Christina Taft woke up early, Nov. 8, to a neighbor urging her to evacuate. She initially didn’t take the evacuation order seriously, but after showering she began to pack up her car. Christina said she packed for about an hour before noticing that her 66 year-old mother, Victoria Taft, was still in her pajamas and had hardly filled her suitcase.

Christina and her mother argued on whether to evacuate and ultimately her mother decided to stay put because she had not heard evacuation orders from officials.

“It took me an hour and a half to get through the town and the whole time I’m like angry and sad that I have all this stuff and not my mom in the car,” Christina said. “I didn’t understand why she stayed, it doesn’t make sense to me.”

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Christina Taft, a Chico State student, who was affected by the Camp Fire sits outside her temporary home at University Village on Sunday afternoon. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Christina recalled the last major fire that occurred in and near Paradise, the Humboldt Fire which burned 23,344 acres and forced many residents to evacuate. Christina thought the community responded to the Camp Fire in a calmer manner than the Humboldt Fire where she remembers people evacuating urgently. The community’s reaction led Christina to believe that was the reason for her mother not wanting to evacuate.

Christina also said she believes she saw a police car pass by her home while she packed up her car. She said the officer did not tell her to evacuate. Christina felt that the community could have done better job of warning the town of the disaster.

While Christina evacuated, she picked up a hitchhiker who told her he would help her go back for her mother. However, at that point, officials were not letting civilians back in to town.

“Other people, they got their family or maybe some of their pets, but they left their stuff,”Christina said. “(My story) is the opposite.”

According to Christina, she called 911 several times to see if they could send someone to get her mother out, but nothing was done.

According to Town of Paradise Public Information Officer Matthew Gates, the dispatch center was overwhelmed with calls. Gates said that officers tried to help as many people as possible even after it was unsafe to do so.

“Preservation of human life is our priority, our number one goal,” he said.

Over the next few days she went to multiple evacuation centers with the hope of finding her mother. After failing to hear any news, Christina decided to report her missing.

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Victoria Taft. Photo Courtesy of Christina Taft

A DNA crosscheck on Thanksgiving revealed her mother had died in the fire.

Victoria was one of 88 people who died in Camp Fire.

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Victoria Taft’s body was found in the police tape area. Photo credit: Alex Grant

A few days after the fire, Christina emailed all her professors to update them on her situation. Her Business Entrepreneurship Professor Colleen Robb decided to step in and help Christina out.

“Well she sent all of her professors an email, just basically saying what happened and so of course I freaked out,” Robb said. “I was like ‘okay, what do you need, what’s going on and where are you staying?'”

Taft at that time was staying with a close friend still trying figure out the status of her mom. Robb took Christina into her home until they could find her permanent housing. She also spoke with the Business Management Department about accommodating Christina.

The faculty from the department met and created a GoFundMe page for students from Paradise. They were able to give Christina $500.

Christina, an entrepreneurial business student, was upset with the lack of proper communication during the fire so she was inspired to create an Emergency Communication Platform so other communities don’t face the same ordeal.

“One of the things that this issue brought up is maybe developing some sort of platform that allows for this kind of communication,” Robb said.

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Christina Taft walks up the stairs toward her University Village apartment on Saturday afternoon. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Christina is now provided with campus housing at University Village. Her housing and food necessities for the upcoming semester will be paid by an alumnus of the Business Management department.

Christina started her own GoFundMe page to help her cover funeral expenses and long-term housing for her final year at Chico State. So far she has raised over 5,000 dollars, but the process of rebuilding her life is just beginning.

Yaritza Ayon can be reached at [email protected] or @ayon_yaritza on Twitter.

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Chico State student loses mother and Paradise home during the Camp Fire