Elderly couple credits neighbor for their survival of deadly Camp Fire

CHICO, Calif. (KGO) -- Burned shoes left by the side of a road and signs warning potential looters are all part of the Camp Fire aftermath in the town of Paradise in Butte County.

"There were flames on both sides of us and propane tanks popping around us," recalled 70 year-old Marilyn Wellsfry.

She and her 81-year-old husband, Ralph, have found safe haven at a sister's house in Chico.

It may be home for awhile because their retirement home in Paradise burned to the ground.

VIDEO: One of last residents to evacuate Paradise films as Camp Fire burns town

"This was where I started life. I started life in Paradise," reminisced Ralph.

They moved back after spending much of their lives in San Jose. They came back figuring to stay, until last week.

"It wasn't the house we loved so much as the people," said Marilyn.

The latest Paradise census shows more than 25 percent of the population is older than 65-years-old, which makes this fire unique.

"The fact that so many elderly people could not move as fast. It took them a long time to leave their homes," said Marilyn.

She and her husband had no idea that a fire had broken out Thursday morning.

The fire department called, but for some reason, they didn't pay attention.

If not for a neighbor banging on their door, they might not have made it.

"He beat the heck out of the front door. He says, 'you gotta' get out of here now!'" Ralph said.

The couple did leave behind their precious cats.

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"It was either stay with them or leave," said Marilyn. What came next was a harrowing drive, and escape.

Not only did the Wellsfry's home vanish, so did that of their neighbor Jim Burnett.

It all happened so fast that it wasn't until today that Ralph could give his savior a proper thank-you.

Through the ABC7 News camera he said, "I would tell him, 'I love you. You saved our life. Thank you so much for being a fantastic neighbor!'"

We have more stories and information on the Camp Fire here.
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