Castaway

The CN&R is committed to chronicling the Camp Fire and its ensuing crises for the foreseeable future. That is our pledge to readers moving forward into the long and complex recovery process.

I mention this because you’re not going to see a photo of the fire on the cover every week, but the subject most certainly will be a focal point of our news coverage. Sure, it’s our job to provide the public with developments that unfold, but I want readers to know that we care deeply about the communities devastated by this tragedy. Everyone in our small office has friends and loved ones who are directly affected. Two employees—and their dear partners—lost their homes; others have been displaced.

Speaking of the CN&R family, I’ve sat down a few times recently with Kevin Jeys, who is well known for his intrepid reporting as a staff writer in the late-1970s and early-’80s. We’d exchanged a few emails since our 40th anniversary issue a couple of summers ago—in which Jeys shared some memories about the paper’s early years—but until late last month had not met.

Jeys stayed in Paradise through the Camp Fire. His house, just a stone’s throw from the Skyway, was spared—thanks to him, a garden hose, some good luck and the Granite Bay Fire Department. That’s the short version, anyway. I learned he was there in a story about him that ran on Thanksgiving Day in The New York Times.

I was in Southern California at the time, but was determined to check in on him. Unlike most folks, I possess a press badge allowing me entrance to the cordoned-off region, where, in addition to my reporting duties, I’ve gone around feeding stranded cats.

When I returned to Chico a few days later, I reached out to one of his friends, who loaded me up with a trunk full of provisions, including a camp stove, candles, and parrot and cat food (like me, Jeys is an animal lover). Neither the friend nor I had a way to communicate with him, because, like everything else on the Ridge, phone service and power had been wiped out. And though wireless towers had returned by that time—more than two weeks after the fire struck—he didn’t own a cellphone. (He has one now, thanks to a Times reader in the Bay Area, but that’s another story.)

Point is, he had no clue a near stranger was on her way with rations and a hug. Funny enough, though, when I pulled up near his house, Jeys was sitting on the porch as though he’d been awaiting my arrival. In reality, I suspect being a sort of castaway in a ghost town of ashes for 18 days was pretty lonesome. Jeys told me firefighters, utility workers and law enforcement personnel have been exceedingly kind and thoughtful through his stay.

Still, he seemed glad for my company and I was happy to be able to bend the ear of someone who’d seen some of the devastation up close, as I have while scouring the Ridge the day after the fire and many days thereafter to get a handle on the scope of its ruin. Frankly, it’s a work in progress.

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About Melissa Daugherty 58 Articles
Melissa Daugherty is an award-winning columnist and editorial writer who started her career as a higher education reporter at a daily newspaper. Daugherty spent 13 years at the CN&R, seven as editor-in-chief. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is her super power.