evacuating Feather River hospital during Camp Fire Paradise CA
© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Hospital workers and first responders evacuate patients from the Feather River hospital as the Camp Fire moved through the Paradise area last week.
Authorities fear that residents will increasingly ignore repeated calls to flee as devastating wildfires become routine

In 13 months, Meg Brown has evacuated her 3,500-acre family ranch just outside of Oroville three times, as the California wildfires have closed in.

After losing animals and historic buildings on Table Mountain Ranch to the 2017 Cherokee fire, she has a plan to respond to such disasters, and how to decide when to stay or go. In recent days, Brown has worked nonstop to secure her animals and livelihood. She and her mother sleep in shifts to ensure the flames of the Camp fire - the deadliest blaze in California state history -don't surprise them in the middle of the night.

Brown and her mother left at one point after they could see the glow of the fire creeping toward the property but returned after firefighters were able to push the fire back.

That doesn't mean the risk has gone away. High winds have threatened to move the blaze back toward the ranch and the area remains under an evacuation warning. But the Browns have lived through fires before, and they want to do what they can to protect the ranch that has been in the family since the 1930s.

"Last night everybody's like, 'go, go, go'. We went, we looked, we came back because we are exhausted," Brown said. "It is evacuation fatigue."

Table Mountain Ranch California wildfires
© Meg Brown
Table Mountain Ranch during the California wildfires.
In just two years, Butte county, California, the site of the deadly Camp fire, has been subject to at least five evacuations due to fire and flood. The town of Paradise, which was largely incinerated by the now 195 sq mile blaze that has killed at least 42, has seen no less than four such orders in 10 years due to fire, prompting concerns among authorities that "evacuation fatigue" might make residents reluctant to leave when necessary.

"Our community has been subject to a lot of evacuations," the Butte county sheriff, Kory Honea, said. "I worry about the effect that has."

John Osborne, a film-maker who has lived in Paradise for more than 20 years, watched numerous fires burn through the area over the years, but none ever came close to threatening his home. Fires are a fact of life on the ridge, and Osborne hesitated to leave on Thursday when he learned there was a fire in the area.

"It was hard for me to take the alert seriously until I heard the explosions," Osborne said.

It wasn't yet smoky there, and he was still loading his car with keepsakes when he suddenly felt the heat of fire consuming his neighbor's home and began to panic.

"I wouldn't have left if it hadn't been for the flames," Osborne said.

In a forested area like Paradise, high in the Sierra foothills and surrounded by canyons on two sides, the risk of fire is ever present, the town's evacuation operations coordinator, Jim Broshears, said. The threat of this fire, which rained down flames upon the town, was "unprecedented", and few, even Paradise residents who have seen multiple blazes, understood its true danger immediately.

Brown and her family, who live 20 miles from Paradise, don't plan to stay until the bitter end, but they want to be able to save as much as possible if the still raging fire comes their way.
Meg Brown at Table Mountain Ranch, Paradise wildfire
© Rob Eves
Meg Brown and her family, who live 20 miles from Paradise, don’t plan to stay until the bitter end, but they want to be able to save as much as possible if the still raging fire comes their way.
She has packed her truck with photos and clothes, stored horses offsite and cleared the pig barn of flammable dry straw. Family members have sat Brown and her mother down, she said, to remind them that it's their lives that are important. But they have cattle and more than 40 pigs that would be impossible to evacuate, and she doesn't want to leave them.

"If all these animals die ... this is my passion, my life," she said as a pig named Kevin licked her shoe. "It's my legacy. I would lay down my life for this place."