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WSU grads escape California fire

Allumni couple drove for six hours as blaze destroyed their home

While+trying+to+escape+the+fire%2C+Jack+and+Melissa%E2%80%99s+daughter+Mary+was+in+the+back+seat+painting%2C+Jack+said.+That+is+now+the+only+art+they+have+from+her.
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WSU grads escape California fire

While trying to escape the fire, Jack and Melissa’s daughter Mary was in the back seat painting, Jack said. That is now the only art they have from her.

While trying to escape the fire, Jack and Melissa’s daughter Mary was in the back seat painting, Jack said. That is now the only art they have from her.

COURTESY OF JACK MCNASSAR

While trying to escape the fire, Jack and Melissa’s daughter Mary was in the back seat painting, Jack said. That is now the only art they have from her.

COURTESY OF JACK MCNASSAR

COURTESY OF JACK MCNASSAR

While trying to escape the fire, Jack and Melissa’s daughter Mary was in the back seat painting, Jack said. That is now the only art they have from her.

HAYLEY MARTINEZ, Evergreen reporter

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A WSU professor and his wife fled their California home last Thursday with their 3-year-old daughter to escape a fire that would destroy their house, leaving nothing behind.

Jack McNassar, a professor of anthropology for WSU Global Campus, and wife Melissa McNassar, a professor at Butte College in Oroville, California, each earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from WSU in 2016 and 2015 respectively.

Their daughter Mary went to the WSU Children’s Center when they were still in Pullman. The couple moved from Pullman to Magalia, California, in 2017.

“We’re all Cougs,” Melissa said.

The fire, dubbed the Camp Fire, began in Paradise, California, just down the hill from the McNassars’ home. It is the deadliest fire in California history, killing 56 people as of Wednesday night.

The McNassars’ neighbors told them about the fire at 8 a.m. last Thursday morning. It started around 6 a.m., Melissa said. A couple minutes after being alerted, the couple began to hear explosions and helicopters flying above their home, she said.

For the first hour of the fire, the McNassars helped elderly neighbors evacuate their homes before leaving.

An evacuation notice was never given to them that morning. While looking online, Melissa noticed a warning for their neighborhood to evacuate had been published 40 minutes earlier.

“Our evacuation was very touch-and-go the whole time,” Jack said.

The couple recalled the evacuation, saying they were packed onto a two-lane road, the single evacuation route open. Drivers started moving into the turn lane, causing further gridlock. Neighbors threw animals in their cars, shouting, “Come on, let’s go!”

Gas stations crowded with people and cardboard signs were erected outside. “No gas here,” the signs read. A huge plume of smoke approached along with a glow from the fire.

Normally the drive would have taken two or three minutes, Jack said. It took two hours that morning.

“Everything behind us was black,” he said.

The couple’s main priority was their daughter, Jack said. At some point, he started thinking they might not make it out of the car alive.

“I looked at my watch at one point at the date and I thought, ‘Nov. 8. This can’t be the day my daughter dies,’ ” Jack said.

After six hours of driving away from the fire, the family made it safely to a motel in Mount Shasta, California.

“The hard part is this marathon of recovery,” Melissa said. “We have an entire town and half of another town just completely destroyed.”

As of Wednesday, the fire was only 35 percent contained, Melissa said. They are currently staying at a hotel in Portland, Oregon.

“We just had so much outpouring of love from so many people from across our lives and a big part of that is being an anthropologist,” Melissa said.

A GoFundMe page was created for the family by Rachel Frank, Jack’s sister. The donation page had raised $12,040 of its $25,000 goal as of Wednesday night.

Jack’s sister had experienced Hurricane Michael in her hometown of Panama City, Florida, exactly a month before the fire started in Magalia. She lost power and is dealing with damages to her own home as well. She made the GoFundMe page on her cell phone with the little power she had, Jack said.

“Every decision we made was the right one that day,” he said. “I’m glad we didn’t give up.”

About the Writer
HAYLEY MARTINEZ, Evergreen Reporter

Hayley  is a sophomore multimedia journalism major from Ventura, California.

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WSU grads escape California fire