November 8, 2018 started out as an ordinary day for Josh Gallagher and his family. As they sat eating breakfast, his daughter noticed a small plume of smoke on the horizon.
They checked into it, but it seemed small and harmless, about 30 miles away.
The lead pastor of Paradise Alliance Church recalls he took his kids to school, and then he headed for a normal day at the church office. But less than an hour after they noticed that tiny cloud of smoke, it had suddenly grown enormous, turning the sky as dark as night as a massive blaze headed toward their town.
Pastor Josh raced back to the school to grab his kids as ashes were already falling from the sky all around him. After he and his wife packed up a few things, they began the difficult exit from Paradise which had only a few ways to escape.
"We started the long journey down the hill," Pastor Josh recalls. "So we were in gridlock traffic as the smoke around us kept getting thicker and thicker and there's nowhere to go, there's nothing to do except wait."
"During that time my wife and I were saying a whole lot of silent prayers because we wanted to stay calm for our kids, but the longer we sat in traffic the worse we knew it was getting," he says.
Eventually they saw a spot fire flare up next to where their house was, and they knew their home probably wouldn't make it.
"We were some of the first ones out of Paradise, and it still took us almost an hour to get down the hill," he says.
"Once we got down the hill, it was just scary, the scene, looking behind us of all the cars coming down the hill, how dark it was."
They eventually arrived at a sister church in Chico and Pastor Josh sent his family on to Sacramento. He stayed behind to help other evacuees.
It's hard for him to talk about his staff and his congregation, knowing how much they've lost. He says 14 out of 21 staff have lost their homes. His home is gone too.
"Right now we don't even know where our congregation is. They are literally scattered all over California, surrounding states, and the nation," he says. "We don't even know right now, and that's the heaviest thing on our heart because we are supposed to be caring for these people physically and spiritually, and we don't even know where they are at this point."
He believes the Church will be essential to rebuilding the community. While his church is still standing, roughly two-thirds of the churches in Paradise were burned to the ground.
Still, he's hopeful that as church leaders join with city leaders, and as groups like Operation Blessing come alongside to help, Paradise can be reborn. "We believe that we will see revival in this community, physical revival, emotional revival, and spiritual revival," he says.
Since our interview, Pastor Josh was able to meet up with some of his congregation gathered in Sacramento. You can see a clip of that below: