Isles man left Paradise days before tragic fire

Peter Sandison, originally from Unst, lived in the California town for about five years.

Peter Sandison.

A MAN originally from Shetland says he is “fortunate” after moving out of a Californian town just days before it was ravaged by a devastating wildfire.

Peter Sandison, who grew up in Unst, left Paradise just days before the deadly wildfire swept across the town about a week ago and burnt it down.


Over 63 people have been found dead in the tragic fire, and more than 600 residents are missing.

Sandison and his wife lived in Paradise for about five years and while they sold their house around two months ago, they stayed with friends temporarily until a few days before the fire broke out.

“It was obviously incredibly distressing,” he said on Thursday about watching videos of the fire.

“We were watching our neighbourhood, and trying to get in contact with everybody. So it was pretty traumatic, and it still is pretty traumatic. We’re still trying to help friends and figure out where they are and who’s still got houses and who hasn’t.


“It’s a national disaster. They’re saying there’s over 10,000 buildings destroyed now – that’s more people and more houses than the whole of Shetland that got destroyed in a couple of days.”

Sandison, who works as an ice pilot and has also had a stint as a captain for Greenpeace, explained that while the town had a fire plan in place, there was no way of preparing for a blaze which moved so quickly.

“There’s always a fire risk in California at the end of summer – it’s really dry, and there’s lightning and a lot of the power lines go through the trees,” he said.

“I had a friend who by the time he got out, the whole area had gone up about three minutes after he got out. He was driving through fire each side and black smoke and hardly being able to see where he could go.

“It happened so quickly, so everybody was trying to get out. The whole population of that whole area is probably 35 to 40,000 and the whole area is trying to get out in three roads.”

Well-travelled Sandison is currently back in Unst briefly before going to New Zealand early next year to guide an icebreaker ship to Antarctica.