The town of Paradise, California was aptly named. Beautiful, serene, and shrouded in the shelter of comforting trees, the town felt like the epitome of ideal California living. That was before the fire that decimated much of the town and its adjacent communities. In Fire in Paradise, the PBS Frontline series revisits the scene one year following the Camp Fire to speak to the residents who were forced to flee their homes, honor the firefighters who battled heroically to contain the hellish swirls of encroaching flames, and identify the culprits who have thus far escaped accountability for the disaster.
A flurry of harrowing amateur video and body cam footage compliments the recollections of the interview subjects as the film recounts each moment of the tragic event.
It began early on the morning of November 8, 2018 when a high voltage electricity tower malfunctioned. The dry land and fierce winds empowered the fire to spread at an unprecedented and unpredictable rate. By the end of that horrific day, 86 people would be dead, tens of thousands would lose their homes, and much of the area would lie charred, flattened and scattered across the landscape. Paradise was destroyed in four hours.
Could this tragedy have been avoided? There are a multitude of targets that could share the blame. Human caused climate played an enormous role by promoting extended drought in the region. City planners did not possess the funds to widen the same roads that would be used by desperate citizens as their only escape route. There's also PG&E - the largest electricity company in the region - who failed to replace faulty lines that were up to 100 years old. "If PG&E was an individual instead of a corporation," one interview subject speculates, "they would be in prison."
The issues of corporate negligence and climate change are crucial to understanding the lessons of this tragedy. But the elements of Fire in Paradise that sting the most are the first-hand accounts from the people who were on the ground that day. Tremendous loss and fear are etched across each face like a war wound that won't heal.