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La Crosse family loses everything in California wildfires but grateful to be alive

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – It’s often a cliche to say a family feels lucky to be alive but in this case its accurate.

88 people died in the northern California wildfires but the Poje family escaped.

In October they made the move from La Crosse to Paradise, California. With Dad Matt back in Wisconsin, Christine and the four children were barely settled in when they woke up to a massive fire that gave no warning.

Joe is the youngest Poje and remembers that morning all too well.

“When we woke up we were like ‘Mom look at the beautiful sunset’ and Mom was thinking in her mind well that’s not south, maybe it’s a fire,” said Joe.

Gabriel is the second oldest and was told to hose down the roof of the house. That’s when he heard something unusual.

‘It kind of sounded like when it’s raining and when pine needles are falling or leaves like when pine needles hit the ground only louder,” said Gabriel.

Mom Christine delegated tasks to the older kids to pack up quick with strict instructors to keep the little ones calm. Nine-year-old Mary says the drive out of Paradise was scary.

“We had to watch for power lines and tree so they wouldn’t fall down. What I did was look out my window. I saw chairs, tables, couches, sofas,” said Mary.

Maggie, the oldest child, is still visibly shaken by what she saw that day.

“I realize how many people might have died. People ran with the pets and their babies. As soon as we got out we realized no cars were coming this way so we didn’t know if that might have been the people that died,” said Maggie.

The Woolsey Fire burned nearly 97,000 acres. 1,500+ structures were destroyed. The fire was contained November 21, but not before leveling the city of Paradise, population 26,000. 

Christine says every day since the fire is a battle with the insurance company.

“I haven’t had a payment from them. I know that they will eventually pay and I know it will all get worked out eventually but right now we’re living on our credit card,” said Christine.

Despite all that Christine says the family is focusing on what they have, not what they lost.

“We’re alive, we’re still Team Poje and everything is OK,” said Christine.

The family lost everything in the fire and are grateful for the support of the La Crosse community. Since so many people ask if they can help, they have established an Amazon list for those everyday items they will need to replace.

The list is called Paradise La Crosse.

For more information, you can direct message Christine Poje on her Facebook page.

Heather Armstrong

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