None of us will forget where we were on Nov. 8, 2018, when the Camp Fire destroyed Paradise and the surrounding ridge communities.
The giant plume of black smoke that dominated our eastward sky in the morning hours was unmistakable; obviously, this was not your typical “big fire.” It was a deadly, landscape-altering inferno, one that would change the lives of tens of thousands of people for years or even decades to come.
I first saw it from the safety of eastern Glenn County while driving in to work at Chico. I remember arriving at the Enterprise-Record office and seeing the shaken faces of my colleagues who, under the tireless leadership of then-editor David Little, were gearing up for an exhausting stretch of around-the-clock coverage of the biggest story of their lives.
Rick Silva, then the editor of the Paradise Post, was pacing in his Nomex flame-resistant fire clothes, desperately wanting to get up the ridge to tell his readers what was going on. Even at that early hour, it was impossible.
“This is it,” he said, upon first catching sight of me. “This is the fire people in Paradise have always warned was going to happen.”
A few hours later, the sky was completely black. The Skyway was jammed. We weren’t able to get into Paradise to speak with the survivors; as it turns out, they were coming to us. By noon, our parking lot was filling with people who had survived a harrowing journey through the flames for survival. So we spoke with them there, and other locations around town.
At some point, we noticed a truck at a stoplight at the corner of Park Avenue and Martin Luther King Blvd. It was on fire. The driver had unknowingly transported some embers down the ridge, and they had ignited other materials in the back of his truck. We stood outside and watched, not knowing if the truck was going to explode. At that point, it almost felt like our entire world was on the brink.
Around 9 o’clock at night, several of us went up on the roof. We could see the flames in Butte Creek Canyon, and we’d heard that south of town, the fire had actually reached the west side of Highway 99 near the FedEx building.
By the time we got the papers out and I’d made it home, it was around 1 in the morning. I’ve never felt so lucky to feel safe at home in bed, while also anguishing over the fact that for tens of thousands of people, life would never be the same — if they were fortunate enough to survive at all.
Almost five years later, those are the main images that come to mind for me. I know many of you have much-more vivid and powerful stories to tell.
We’d like to hear them.
We are just a little over two weeks from the fifth anniversary of the Camp Fire. On Wednesday, Nov. 8, we’ll have a special edition focusing on the rebirth on the ridge and how the rebuild is going — focusing on measures that have been taken to make sure the rebuild is safe and smart.
Of course, no such day can pass without also hearing from the people who were impacted by that fire. We’re reaching out to you, our readers, to once again help us tell the entire story.
We’d like to hear from people who fled the fire. And people who stayed and were forced to watch everything around them burn — homeowners, renters and business owners, too. And first responders.
In short, if you have a story to share, we’d like to hear it. We’ll publish as many of them in our print edition as space allows, and we’ll run them all on our website.
We are especially interested in not only hearing your memories of that day — how you first found out about the fire, what you first saw, what you did next, etc. — but also what you’re doing today. If you had a home that was destroyed, have you rebuilt? Moved away? If you stayed, what’s different? What are your lasting, most powerful mental images?
Like all of the horrific events many of us have witnessed in our lives — from political assassinations to 9/11 and beyond — we all have our unique remembrances of the Camp Fire. We think it’s important that those memories be shared and documented — not only to honor all of those who were lost, but also in hopes it’ll help us take the proper steps to prevent anything of such awful magnitude from happening again.
We look forward to hearing what you have to say. Please email your stories to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The shorter your story, the more likely it’ll end up in our print edition; we’re recommending 300 words or less.
Mike Wolcott is the editor of the Enterprise-Record. He can be reached at email@example.com.