Early in the morning of November 8 in Paradise, California, Mark Mesku got a call from his daughter. “She said, ‘Dad, you got to get out. The whole town’s on fire.'” Mesku looked outside, saw the sky filled with smoke, and shouted for his wife. After grabbing a few belongings, they got in their cars. “Three hours of pure darkness is what it took us to get out from our home,” he says. “The sky was pure black, except for the trees and cars that were burning up and exploding right next to us.” When they got to the main road — the only route out of Paradise — the other cars wouldn’t let them merge into traffic. Mesku had to force his truck onto the road, and let his wife merge in front. They later learned that cars behind them on the side road had burned.

They survived, and during the exodus Mesku even managed to rescue a woman whose car caught on fire. But their house was destroyed, and their neighbors were killed in the fire. Emotionally, Mesku says, he and his wife can’t go back to Paradise, where they had lived for 15 years. “I look at it as a graveyard,” he says. It also isn’t practical to go back now. The toxic aftermath of the fire will take time to clean up. The town’s infrastructure is gone, and with roughly 14,000 homes destroyed, so is the tax base. Mesku’s business, a dental lab, was destroyed, and the dentists that he worked with no longer have patients. Even the trees in his yard — 40 massive Ponderosa pines — present an insurmountable obstacle, because taking down each damaged tree would cost $2,000 apiece, totaling more than the value of the land. Mesku and his wife had to move. In late December, they found a home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

Read the full article about climate change and migration by Adele Peters at Fast Company.