The Camp Fire has torn a scar across Northern California, doing the majority of its damage within the first six hours after it formed last Thursday. It’s now the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in state history and as of Tuesday night has claimed 48 lives.
The fire was a shock to the people of Paradise, the mid-sized town that it very nearly destroyed entirely. Soon after the fire began, stories from survivors fleeing the flames began to filter out through local and social media.
Journalists on the ground reported sentiments of heartbreak and hope, tales of families torn apart, and the occasionally happy news of pets reunited with their owners. They heard stories of heroism — doctors huddled on the hospital’s helipad, waiting to airlift patients to safety.
Below are some of the striking moments from the early days of the fire:
On Friday morning, images emerged that suggested that much of Paradise had been lost. The fire was so intense and the destruction so complete that the town’s reservoir ran dry after its waters leaked through miles of damaged pipes.
Paradise residents worried about what happened to the local hospital as pictures surfaced of patients waiting on the tarmac to be airlifted out. A TV news crew from nearby Redding captured eerie footage of what was left of Feather River Hospital:
The burnt shells of cars and overwhelming loss of homes was an indication that many of Paradise’s residents likely didn’t survive the blaze. In addition to the nearly 50 deaths caused by the Camp Fire, hundreds are still missing. There was a man who saved himself by jumping into a nearby stream — but couldn’t save his friends. Family members pleaded with loved ones to get out — after a while, those remaining in Paradise didn’t pick up.
But as the weekend progressed, heroic stories of people rescuing neighbors and pets began to mix with the reports of destruction.
Reporters were clearly impacted by covering the devastation. Trained to be dispassionate observers, they embraced survivors and paused for personal reflections. Over and over, they made it clear that this kind of fire isn’t normal. As California’s fire season lengthens and droughts become more frequent and severe with climate change, the chances of megafires, like the Camp Fire, are going up.
As area residents grapple with its loss, it’s unclear what happens next. Donated goods have poured in, and neighbors have sought one another out to share stories and rebuild their community. The hope is that the reports of structures that were miraculously spared and other examples of resilience and kindness will help Paradise heal.