Man who suffered third-degree burns in Camp Fire dies after 9 months in hospital

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A wildfire that destroyed an entire town last November has taken another life.

Paul Ernest, who suffered third-degree burns in the Camp Fire, died Monday in West Sacramento after spending the last nine months in hospitals, his family said. He was 72.

Jessee Ernest confirmed his father’s death.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “We’ve held on for nine months for this to be the outcome.”

When the fire broke out, Paul Ernest and his wife, Suzie, were living on a street in Paradise that had only one exit, their son said. They were ready to evacuate but never received an evacuation order, he said.

The couple decided to leave anyway, only to find the main entrance blocked, according to their son. So they took shelter in a clearing on a bluff nearly a mile away from their home.

But the fire reached them.

Suzie Ernest sustained third-degree burns covering 30% of her body, her son said, adding his dad was burned on 35 to 40% of his body.

Both were eventually rescued and taken to UC Davis Medical Center, Jessee Ernest said. Each went through several surgeries and started recovering.

Suzie Ernest was discharged from the hospital in February, her son said. Her husband was also healing, but his lungs continued to suffer and he had to use a ventilator.

Paul Ernest was transferred to an acute hospital in Folsom and then moved to a long-term care facility in West Sacramento, Jessee Ernest said. That’s where he died.

Although upset, Jessee Ernest is glad his dad doesn’t have to suffer anymore.

“He, being the outdoorsman he was, would’ve hated being in the hospital for this long,” he said.

The Camp Fire, which began Nov. 8, is the deadliest in California history, killing 85 people and destroying nearly 19,000 buildings, according to previous Bee reports. The blaze wiped out 90% of Paradise and left tens of thousands of people homeless, all in the span of nearly a day.

It was officially contained Nov. 25.

The fire was started in the Butte County hills by power lines belonging to Pacific Gas & Electric, The Bee previously reported.

Hundreds were reported missing in the days following the fire. Last week, one of two people still unaccounted for was found. She reportedly was avoiding police, law enforcement said.

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