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Let's start with the good news. They made it out alive.

Several members of Kevin Whatley's family fought bumper-to-bumper traffic last week to escape the horrific wildfire that ravaged northern California.

But the Paradise, Calif., home shared by Whatley's grandparents, an aunt and uncle and a younger cousin is completely gone — as are dozens, if not hundreds, of other houses and businesses. More than 18,000 acres were consumed by the fire.

"The whole town they're in, it's just gone," said Whatley, who plays in the United Shore Professional Baseball League, based in Utica. "They have nothing. They had to leave their cats and dogs. It's not a good situation, at all.

"It's horrible. It makes me sick to my stomach not being able to physically be there for them right now."

Whatley, 23, an infielder for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers, wrapped up his baseball season in early October, and now is living in Cincinnati.

So it was a helpless feeling when he got a gut-wrenching call from his father last week, as the fire — which consumed dozens of square miles — completely destroyed Paradise, a town of 27,000 about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco.

Whatley's family, as the fire switfly began to bear down, were urged, like so many other Paradise residents, to take shelter at a nearby Walgreens. They decided against that, and started driving. The Walgreens eventually was evacuated, too.

"That Walgreens ended up burning down and people died," Whatley said. "My aunt, she just trusted her gut. She was like, 'No, we're not doing that.' She just had a bad feeling about it. They just started driving through the fire, on the streets. They were stuck in, like, three-hour traffic. It was pretty crazy."

Wanting to do something, anything, to help his family, even from so far away, Whatley started a GoFundMe page with a modest goal of $5,000. It's raised about $700 so far, through three days.

Whatleys grandparents have a small second place in Durham, southwest of Paradise, and are hunkered down there, along with his aunt, uncle and cousin.

They're part "jam-packed" in there and part "living out of their car," said Whatley, himself a native of Port Orchard, Wash.

Whatley has spoken to his grandmother, and his spirits, albeit briefly, were boosted by her amazingly upbeat outlook on the whole situation. After all, not everyone was as fortunate; at least 31 people have been killed in the fire, and 230 people remain missing.

"I called my grandma and she had such a positive attitude," Whatley said, laughing. "'Oh, it's all good!' She made me feel like they were completely fine.

"I'm just happy they're alive."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

 

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