EXCLUSIVE: Camp Fire Survivor Already at Home in the Valley

EXCLUSIVE: Camp Fire Survivor Already at Home in the Valley

Kitty Alvarado Connect

At 86-years-old Mary Lee Harman is as fun and sassy as ever.

She’s known for her big laugh.

She has a lot to be thankful for these days, “I am very, very, very, very lucky.”

She, her son Randy, his family and her dog sparky, just survived the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history: the Camp Fire. 

“There were huge flames on the trees right back of my best friend’s cottage and they were asleep they didn’t know and I said, ‘oh, gosh,’ the trees were on fire right in their backyard,”

She says her son was on his way to help renovate the church he belongs to in paradise when he saw smoke and flames towards where she lives, “Randy got me out of there, like randy called and said, ‘Mom there’s a fire, I‘ll come and pick you up in ten minutes.'”

Mary Lee says she’s worried about her friends and hasn’t been able to reach any of them, “That’s what I think about at night, where’s so and so, where’s so and so.”

She’s still learning what was lost and gulps air when her daughter tells her the cottages around her retirement community were all burned to the ground.

She says her son Randy’s home is a total loss, “It’s completely gone, it’s right down to the ground,” and the church the one he was working on, “there was a cross, and it’s 20 foot high he helped put it up and it’s the only thing standing and it’s wood.”

She says the picture of that cross standing gave her chills and her daughter tells her that cross that’s left standing amid ruin is more reason to believe during this time of hardship for so many. 

Her daughters say it’s hard to think about just how close they came to losing their mom and brother, who they credit with saving so many people and pets because he even went to the fire station to alert them there was a fire.

“Randy, you cannot put into words, your gratefulness that he was there,” says Mary Lee’s daughter Betsy Stokke.

“Randy was just the hero, he’s the hero of the day,” says Nan Gillin, who lives in Palm Desert adding that it’s wonderful to have her mother with them again. 

While Mary Lee has lost her shelter and meaningful items like pictures and family recipes, she has everything she needs that makes a house special: family.

“I’m so glad that I got to come home,” says Mary Lee with a big laugh. 

She says she’s also grateful to The Palms retirement community in La Quinta, where she will now call home, because they honored the rate she was paying at their sister community in Paradise. And she’s also grateful to the family who donated everything in her apartment, right down to the dishes.

She says this Thanksgiving they will have a lot to be thankful for and will have many in Paradise in their hearts and prayers.