Hope Not Lost in Paradise

How Lyons Express Oil & Lube Was Saved From Destruction

Given that at least 77 people were killed at press time and more than 215 square miles of land was burned in November’s Northern California wildfire known as the Camp Fire, it would be easy to believe it resulted in Paradise Lost. From the pre-fire scenic beauty to utter destruction, few other words could do justice to what the fire left behind. The fire completely devastated the once majestic town of Paradise, California, destroying at least 7,177 structures including 6,453 homes. The Camp Fire, which destroyed Paradise, is now on record as the most destructive in California history.

Paradise was lost — at least for now.

The town had been first settled in the middle of the 19th century, and it was at one time reportedly known as “Pair-O-Dice” and later “Paradice”— taking its name from a saloon in the town center. Whether that is true or not, anyone who visited the town of 27,000 could understand why to the locals, it was simply Paradise.

Luck had shined down on Paradise in 2008, when two different fires — one in June known as the Humboldt Fire and another in July also named the Camp Fire — burned nearby the city. While residents were forced to evacuate their homes as a result of those two fires, neither did serious damage to the community; but now a decade later, the luck had run out in Paradise.

Yet, even as dense smoke hung over the shell of the town there was true hope — Paradise will rise from the ashes.

“The town will come back, and it will be Paradise again,” said Paradise resident Paul Lyons, a retired member of the United States Marine Corps, who had built Lyons Express Oil & Lube from the ground-up. It took a lot of determination, grit and a lot of work, and Lyons put that same amount of fortitude into saving his business.

Despite being told to evacuate, which would have meant losing his business and livelihood to the flames, he and his employees built a fire row. Giving up was something the former Marine simply couldn’t do.

“We had a defensible space around the building, but the fire was still within eight feet,” Lyons told NOLN. “I made sure all the employees left, but I decided to stay back and deal with the fire myself. My guys had their wives and children to take care of, and I wasn’t going to let them risk their lives for the shop.”

Fortunately, all the employees did get out and made it back to their families. One employee had a rough go of it, however, when he found himself stuck in the fires and had to drive his vehicle across a highway practically engulfed in flames.

For Lyons, he was determined to keep the fires from consuming the shop he worked so hard to build. For more than 24 straight hours, Lyons climbed a 20-foot ladder and threw buckets of water, antifreeze and even used coolant onto the roof of his shop.

“I was carrying one gallon jugs up the ladder and just doing what I could,” Lyons explained. “I kept watching the embers land on the roof, and I just kept pouring the water to put these out.”

Lyons’ determination paid off. He sadly watched neighboring buildings catch fire and said he wished he could have done more.

“This is so much worse than what we saw with last year’s wildfires in California,” he said, and added that there is much blame to go around. “The town changed the water system. We used to have a gravity feed and went to a pumping system. That is great for delivering water to residents, but in a fire it was like building a car that will go 200 miles an hour but has no brakes. They didn’t install any back-up generators so the firemen simply didn’t have the water they needed.”

Once the fires were contained in Paradise, Lyons had time to consider what would happen next.

“I’m down to two pants, six pair of underwear and six pair of socks,” he said candidly. “It is pretty devastating, but my wife and I have each other, so in that way it could have been a lot worse.”

It wasn’t to be business as usual, Lyons told NOLN. As of late November, smoke still filled the air, and it was nearly impossible to see much past 20 feet in the town.

“We truly went from Paradise to hell on earth,” Lyons admitted stoically. “No businesses are operating, and traffic is blocked up from abandoned cars on the road. People tried to drive through the flames, and some weren’t so lucky and got burned alive. It is simply horrible to think about.”

As Lyons noted, he is grateful for what he has — most notably that he and his wife did make it through alive. Yet, he explained that he lost a lot as well. Lyons lost his home, as did his elderly mother-in-law, whose house was close to the shop.

With the fire closing in, Lyons said he had a hard choice to make. He could try to save his shop — which was his business and a livelihood not just for him but also his crew — or he could try to save his classic car collection, which he had been working on for the past 40 years.

In the end, he loved the cars, but the shop was his lifeblood. Lyons chose the shop.

“I am sad that I lost the cars, some of which I’ve had for 25 years,” he said. These included a 1950 Ford Woodie he had owned for the last 25 years; a 1933 Ford Vicky that was burned beyond recognition; a 1966 Ford Mustang convertible; a 1964 Mustang convertible he built himself; a 1955 step-side 4×4; six more Woodies to be restored; and various other projects awaiting restoration.

“But I’m alive,” Lyons said, “that is the most important part.”

Lyons Express Oil & Lube, the local police station and fire station were about the only buildings still standing in Paradise, California the week before Thanksgiving — and for this determined individual, it was something significant to be thankful for!

With his business the only one left standing, he hoped to be in the center of a new Paradise.

“I am in a holding pattern, but I plan to be back in the shop as soon as the authorities let me,” he explained. “I have talked to about 1,000 customers already who asked when we’ll be open. As soon as I can open and get the team back, we’ll be open for business. We’re here to help make sure that Paradise will return.”