The Camp Fire, Before and Two Years After

The Camp Fire, Before and Two Years After

Josie Graves, Journalist

November 8, 2020- 6:08 am

Two years ago on this day, the town of Paradise California was a bustling and picturesque town, where each neighbor knew the other and the interest of each individual was mirrored collectively by the other residents. Historic landmarks were littered about creating the perfect centerpieces for photos, and weekly plays, musicals, or performing art spectacles were the center of the perpetual buzzing excitement. All who lived in Paradise emitted an infectious happiness that defined the atmosphere of the joyful neighborhood up on the ridge. 

21 minutes later, Paradise and the surrounding area would be the victim of one of the most destructive and deadliest wildfires in California history. That day, the Camp Fire would burst into an inferno, plotting its course through the small rural town and leaving behind only the charred remnants of a community’s livelihood. 


November 8, 2018- 6:29 am

Everyone noticed the smoke, no one paid it any mind. Living in the drought ridden state of California, wildfires are commonplace. Red flag warnings are part of daily life and all are conscious of the tell tale signs that a single spark could ignite the flames. But even as the inky black smoke billowed from the distant mountain range, the locked gazes of the community reflected a mere lackadaisical attitude. It was only when the final trace of blue vanished behind the advancing plume, a realization of our premature ignorance set in. 

“When we were driving up to Chico for school, in the carpool we noticed the cloud of smoke but it was small at that point and it seemed far away.” Said Lianne Huber, a senior at Inspire School of Arts & Sciences located in the neighboring town of Chico CA. 

“In first period, when the smoke was darkening the sky, I’ll be honest I didn’t even think anything was happening. It was only after I heard classmates talking that I noticed the sky was dark and I realized with horror that this was the same smoke cloud we saw this morning.” 

In a matter of hours, the otherwise peaceful town was plagued with a certain fear that could only be understood by those living through a historic and horrific event. For many, the end of that day signified the beginning of the grieving process as 11,000 homes were leveled by sunset. For others the uncertainty as to whether their homes would survive the blaze was a consuming thought. Each evacuation warning that was raised to an order brought closer the reality that we desperately wanted to believe was only a nightmare. The reports on the news stated that the fire was moving a football field a second, 4.5 miles a minute. But as the sky began to glow an ominous color unlike any defined before and pieces of Paradise fell from the dark glare brought on by the flames, we could no longer ignore the present truth. For the next 17 days, Butte County would be haunted with the overwhelming panic of what might happen should the Camp Fire continue to spread with the swiftness and rapidity with which it had begun. 

November 24, 2018- 1:54 pm

Cal Fire calls 100% containment. The relief that should have served to diminish the fears offers little in place of the disbelief and anxiety growing throughout. By extinguishing the flames, the thoughts of the community circled around the end of the destruction. No one could imagine what the aftermath would entail. 

Rudy Bustamante, an AP Spanish teacher from Chico Senior High School, was one of the victims who lost his home in the fire. 

“It was a sense of kind of like denial but the immediate concern was getting supplies. Clothing, suitcases, you know, the basic stuff, a toothbrush, shaving cream, toothpaste. And, of course, a place to stay for the next however many days.”

Mr. Bustamente was only one among 35,000 residents who were displaced due to the Camp Fire. They had lost everything, homes, businesses, pets, and could not access their neighborhoods to see what remained. People were stranded, with nowhere to go and nothing to their name. Most everything went up with the flames, and the fire spread so quickly the frantic movements of the town were made to survive not to collect belongings. 

“You know we had no idea how long we were going to be looking for a place. Luckily I had a couple of family and friends that were willing to give us a room in their home. And that’s what we ended up doing. We ended up accepting an offer of a master bedroom at a friend’s home. And when I say “we” we’re talking about my brother and my mom who also lived up in Paradise who lost their apartment. It was the three of us staying in one room.”

But even with the influx of survivors, the already filled surrounding areas met their needs with an incredible response. People came from miles to give what they could and donations came flooding in from around the nation to aid in supporting the victims. Classrooms were turned into centers for organizing donations, and fairgrounds began to accommodate as many trailers as was feasible. Tragedy united the county. We came together and regardless of our abilities to help, our intentions were mended into one. Everyone dug deep to give in any way they could, whether that be putting in time or offering supplies and money. 

November 8, 2020- 11:08 am

Today we sit in silence allowing each second to commemorate one life claimed by the inferno. And as the 85 seconds pass, the memories of the devastation return with an astonishing clarity. This day serves as a remembrance of how far we have come as a community but with it is attached the anxiety of what that first day brought. The town on the ridge is still in the process of rebuilding. A year later, only 11 homes had been rebuilt. Another year has brought with it the construction of only 81 out of 11,000 houses. The process is slow but the community remains resilient. It is as the bumper stickers, strewn across the state read, “Paradise strong, We Will Rise and Rebuild.”

Mr. Bustamante´s home before and after the Camp Fire swept through Paradise.