OWATONNA – Every day, Roman Digby of Owatonna would wake up to a text that read, “Good morning, have a great day” from his father. When Digby would drive to and from work, he would give his dad a ring and chat with him on the phone for a couple of minutes.
The last Digby has heard from his father was the morning of Thursday, Nov. 8.
“Dad has been sick,” Digby said, stating that during their last phone he was trying to encourage his father, John Digby of Paradise, California, to go see the doctor. “He called me on Thursday and he wasn’t himself, I had a hard time understanding him. He said he had gotten some results back from a doctor, but wouldn’t tell me what they were. He didn’t want me to worry, but I knew he was extremely sick.”
Roman Digby said he tried calling his father back later that day, but all he got was static on the line. Thinking that he had perhaps forgotten to pay his phone bill, Digby tried the park manager of Pine Springs Mobile Home Park, where his father resided. He again heard nothing but static. Starting to worry, he tried the Paradise Police Department. Static.
That’s when Digby turned to Google, never expecting what he was about to see.
On Thursday, Nov. 8, the city of Paradise in northern California was reduced to ashes when the wildfire named Camp Fire erupted. It has wreaked havoc and untold destruction throughout Butte County, killing 42 people, burning 6,522 homes, sending thousands fleeing for their lives, and resulting in more than 200 people still missing.
John Arthur Digby is one of those people.
“I’ve been in shock,” Roman Digby said on Tuesday, five days since last hearing from his father. “All I knew was my dad was sick, and then suddenly his entire town was wiped out. I think I’m still processing.”
Digby admits that he hasn’t slept well since that first Google search. After contacting the Butte County Sheriff’s Office to officially report his father as missing as a result of the Camp Fire. Digby stated that his father’s information had been passed on to a special investigation team and that it was confirmed that the entire trailer park had been completely burnt to the ground. A California reporter notified Digby that she went to the site of his father’s trailer and that it was nothing but twisted metal and ash.
“I’ve had no time to grieve,” Digby said, stating that he wasn’t even sure how he should be feeling without having any answers. “At this point bad news would be better than no news.”
In his search for his father, Digby has posted his dad’s information on every social media platform he has access to. He has joined Facebook groups dedicated to locating those missing from the fire and has been interviewed by several California and Canadian news sites. Digby said that he figures if one person out there may have a random connection to those in Paradise that perhaps he will find the answers he’s looking for. Digby’s initial Facebook post has been shared over 1,000 times, and he said the overall outpouring of support has been overwhelming.
“I definitely have a newfound faith in humanity,” Digby said, adding that a coworker even surprised him by setting up a GoFundMe page to help offset expenses that have come with him missing work. “There are complete strangers who have never met me or my dad that are helping search shelters for him. It’s pretty amazing.”
Digby was able to connect with someone in Paradise who knew his father and had seen him a couple days before the fire, stating that he looked “tired and sad.” The mysterious way his father had been acting in the days leading up to the Camp Fire has only added to Digby’s questions and concerns.
“I can’t help but wonder that maybe he didn’t want to save himself,” Digby said, adding that a neighbor had gone to his father’s trailer on Thursday telling him to no avail that it was time to evacuate.
Digby’s mother, Nancy Digby, passed away after a battle with cancer in 2016, leaving Digby and his 14-year-old son, Joey, as his father’s only family. While the chaos continues to rage on as people scramble to locate their loved ones, Digby said he is determined to stay put together and do whatever it takes to find his father.
“Please just share his information,” Digby pleads to the public. “You just never know who might have the connection we need in California.”