Documentary on Camp Fire debuts in San Rafael
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KTVU) - A Butte County man who saved more than 100 lives during the Camp Fire is being recognized in a new film.
"I always say I wish I could have done more but my goal was to get everybody out," said Stephen Murray, 41, prior to the screening of "The Camp Fire Documentary" in San Rafael Monday evening.
The Camp Fire was California's deadliest and most destructive in history, destroying almost 20,000 structures and killing 86 people in November 8, 2018.
"I knew who stayed up late and slept in, who had no clue, and who can't hear," Murray told KTVU, recalling the morning fire began to devour the Apple Tree Village Senior Mobile Home Park in Paradise.
Murray had been the maintenance man at the 25-acre park for more than four years, and immediately went into action.
"Go, go, come on, go this way," he can be heard exclaiming in the film, urging and assisting elderly residents to escape.
"The park has now caught fire, we've got a small fire here, another there," Murray says, narrating another of his cell phone videos that morning.
"You need meds, can you get through the day without them?" he asks a man evacuating on a walker.
"You're going to have to sit in the back, I've already got somebody in the front," he says, loading passengers into his vehicle.
The park had 167 mobile homes, and Murray knew everyone by name.
He also knew who was frail, who was unable to walk or drive, and who would resist leaving.
"Some of them just said they were going to be fine," Murray recounted, "and a lot of them can't hear, so didn't hear the fire coming, they don't hear the propane bombs going off, none of that."
Not one person in the mobile home park died that day.
"Right now, to date, there are 152 people who have said 'if you hadn't knocked on my door or honked your horn, I would have perished."
The Bay Area non-profit "Community Heroes" organized the screening at the Rafael Theatre as a fund raiser for Camp Fire survivors.
"On that day I knew my seniors needed me. I didn't know my life would change forever," Murray told the audience of more than 100 film-goers.
The morning of the fire, Murray left the park only once, to race home and gather his own family and send them to safety.
"I turned the light off, shut the door and knew I was saying goodbye to my house at that point. I just went right back to work."
The family home would soon burn down, plunging Murray, his fiancee and their two young children into uncertainty.
"I'm living in a trailer and I've got four more days to move for the FEMA cleanup," said Murray grimly. "I don't know where I'm going to take my family. There's nowhere to go, nowhere."
When Murray reflects on his heroism- driving through fences to create exit routes, ferrying seniors to safety, he says adrenaline fueled him.
But determination drives him now, as he sees the struggle and despair people are mired in.
"I have a meeting with eight families who are living in their cars, and I can't help all eight at the same time," said Murray.
"But there are people living in their cars after three months, and when I think about their stress, it takes away from mine."
Murray notes he's trying to secure hundreds of RV's for people to live in, and he needs space heaters too, to keep aging trailers warm during the winter months.
He suggests donors help fire survivors via the National Victims Support Network, which an an online link, or through Marin-based Community Heroes.
The 50-minute documentary is available on YouTube from Golden Eagle Films.