Everything Around Him Burned. He Stayed Put, and Lived to Tell the Tale.

Everything Around Him Burned. He Stayed Put, and Lived to Tell the Tale.

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Kevin Jeys rode out the Camp Fire in his home in Paradise, Calif., despite orders to evacuate.CreditCreditJason Henry for The New York Times

PARADISE, Calif. — As his neighbors fled, Kevin Jeys read. Then, as a mammoth wildfire moved in, he took a break from flipping through a New Yorker magazine and stepped outside to see what was happening.

“Propane tanks were exploding all over the place, people were screaming and the embers from the buildings on fire around me were crackling,” said Mr. Jeys, 62, a paralegal who writes briefs for criminal defense lawyers. “But I knew then and there I wasn’t going anywhere. I thought, where the hell am I going to go with three cats?”

So, Mr. Jeys — who does not own a cellphone or functioning vehicle but does, in addition to the three cats, have a cockatoo, a zebra finch, two tree frogs and a red translucent bearded dragon lizard — stayed put. Somehow the home he rents on Birch Street emerged unscathed from a firestorm that turned most of Paradise, Calif., into charred ruins and killed dozens of area residents.

Just about the entire town of 27,000 people has evacuated to safe zones. But not Mr. Jeys, who was outside his home on Tuesday. He still isn’t going anywhere, he said.

Mr. Jeys’s remarkable decision to stay in a home that somehow survived the Camp Fire offers a glimpse into the unpredictable behavior of both wildfires and those trapped in them.

The authorities made it clear from the start of the fire that Paradise had to be evacuated.

Saying he was concerned about continuing hazards in the devastated areas, the Sheriff Kory L. Honea of Butte County repeatedly warned residents that they were not allowed in the evacuation zones without a police escort. He also said he wanted to protect the evacuated homes and businesses from looters.

“I have warned people time and time again,” the sheriff said at a briefing last week. “If you’re in these evacuated areas where you shouldn’t be and you are violating the law or taking advantage of these poor citizens who were displaced we are going to stop you and investigate you and take you to jail if we find that you are violating the law.”

Up and down suburban lanes, in one cul-de-sac after another in Paradise, some of the only structures that remain standing are the brick fireplaces of homes otherwise gutted by the firestorm. What remains of families’ personal effects are laid bare. There are also a number of homes and businesses intact, vacant of their owners and an inviting target for thieves.

Nearly every natural disaster includes people like Mr. Jeys. Some refuse to leave during Category 5 hurricanes, arguing they are safer in their homes than in panic-ridden traffic jams. Others express fear of looting if they leave, opting to defend their property.

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Mr. Jeys said he had stayed behind because he could not move his pets, which include three cats and a bearded dragon.CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

Mr. Jeys listed his pets as his top reason for staying. He said it dawned on him quickly that it would be impossible to evacuate with them all, especially because his Mazda pickup remained broken down and stranded in front of his house.

“I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone who was in their own car trying to flee,” Mr. Jeys said in an interview outside his home. “And I had my strategy for making a stand to protect my home.”

That plan of action involved a garden hose. Mr. Jeys said he used it to spray the roof of his one-story home and extinguish nearby embers. For those patches of fire beyond the reach of his hose, he stomped on them with his cowboy boots.

Mr. Jeys acknowledged that the fact that his home was made largely of cinder block instead of wood or drywall may have made the structure more fire resistant. Still, he pointed at the dry pine needles in his yard — fuel for a fast-moving wildfire — and wondered why they didn’t burn.

A fire crew in Paradise also lent a hand, extinguishing a blaze that was ripping through an alleyway behind his dwelling. From his front porch, Mr. Jeys said he could still see nearby structures going up in flames. He glimpsed squirrels and birds scurrying along the ground on an empty lot in front of his home, as if escaping the heat above.

“I woke up the next day and Paradise looked a little like Dresden,” said Mr. Jeys, clad entirely in black from head (felt brimmed hat) to toe (those cowboy boots).

Surviving the Camp Fire was one challenge for Mr. Jeys; enduring its aftermath is another.

Power and telephone services went off after the fire, on Nov. 8. Three weeks later, they have yet to come back on. Mr. Jeys, who relied on a landline to access the internet, does not have a way to keep in touch with people on social media.

Asked why he never got a cellphone, Mr. Jeys stared shortly into the distance before responding. “My ex would say it’s because I’m a Leo who’s resistant to change,” he said. “That sounds about right.”

However, Mr. Jeys, who explained he was a journalist in this part of California until economic upheaval in the newspaper industry forced him to change professions, said he stayed informed by listening to a local AM station on a battery-powered transistor radio.

To keep warm at night, when temperatures in Paradise dip into the 40s, Mr. Jeys said he used a wood stove. Water service in his home has been restored, but he does not have hot water, which means he has not bathed for a while.

“I’m too chicken for cold water,” Mr. Jeys, bespectacled and generously whiskered, said.

Otherwise, Mr. Jeys has largely relied on the kindness of strangers and friends to make it through this ordeal.

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Investigators are trying to determine why some homes remain standing in Paradise, while others were reduced to ash.CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

Luckily, he is well known from his reporting days among journalists in this part of California. One writer in the Chico News & Review, an alternative newspaper, has called Mr. Jeys “Chico’s answer to Hunter S. Thompson,” describing his articles as “usually brilliant, funny and dangerous.”

Mr. Jeys said he gave his debit card to a radio reporter who recently made it through the roadblocks to survey Paradise. The reporter returned with several packs of Pall Malls, his preferred brand of cigarettes, and some mouthwash.

For sustenance, Mr. Jeys said that members of work crews in Paradise had given him sandwiches and bottles of water. They’ve also doled out other essentials, like batteries and bags of cat food. He repeatedly praised the generosity of those going house to house in the town looking for the remains of missing people who may have died in the fire.

Since the fire hit, Mr. Jeys said he found himself grappling with feelings of guilt and bewilderment. He said he had listened to radio reports on the staggering number of people who died in the fire, now at 84, as well the hundreds listed as missing.

“I know people who escaped with only the clothes on their backs,” he said. “Others didn’t make it out at all, and here I am. I find myself asking how that can be sometimes.”

Mr. Jeys said he was also pondering the apparent randomness of which structures were razed in the fire and which ones remain unscathed.

Nearby, on Skyway, the commercial strip winding through the town, the Pelicans Roost Restaurant, Dutch Bros. Coffee and Meeho’s Mexican restaurant somehow remain standing. The same cannot be said for the Main Event styling salon, Maria Celeste’s Gastropub or Jack in the Box, all destroyed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jeys is still reading each morning and spending time with his pets.

He smiled while explaining that he named one of his cats after “Porius,” a 1951 historical novel set in Wales during the Dark Ages by John Cowper Powys, a British philosopher and novelist. The name became too laborious to pronounce, so he shortened it to Por. The other two are Nikolai and Bites.

Mr. Jeys said he did not venture far when he strolled around Paradise. He heard through the grapevine of workers sifting through the rubble that the town might have another person or two who similarly decided to stick it out. But if so, he said, he hasn’t run across them.

Gazing at the conifer and oak trees that still tower over his home, he said the tragedy reminded him how unpredictable life can be.

“Look at me,” Mr. Jeys said. “I now live on an island in a sea of destruction.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Fire Raged All Around. He and Pets Stayed Put.. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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