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It was the best bad place.

To the south was a gun shop called Fins, Fur & Feather Sports, stocked with live ammunition. To the northeast, a propane yard. Across the street, a Fastrip gas station. All around, soaring, drought-crisp pines.

And in the center? About 150 terrified people who had fled the ferocious Camp fire only to be stopped at the intersection of Skyway and Clark Road, forced to sit out the deadliest conflagration in California history.

In a parking lot. Surrounded by fuel. Barred from escape by roaring flames and roads that were choked, first with traffic, then abandoned vehicles, and, finally, with burned-out hulks of charred metal.

“Are we gonna die?” volunteer firefighter Chris Rainey was asked, over and over again. His job that day was to keep the panicky crowd as calm as possible. His response each and every time: “No, you’re not gonna die.”

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