“Just get past Nov. 8.”
That’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past month. Amid the buildup of the Camp Fire one-year mark—my anxiety growing with each day lacking rain—that refrain has kept me going.
Our issue hits the stands on the eve of the anniversary of the great fire that wiped out a large swath of Butte County’s foothill communities. And to be honest, I’ve been stressed about the potential for another tragedy.
It’s an emotional response stemming from an event that has left an indelible impression on so many. That includes the tens of thousands who drove down through hell to escape the firestorm, as well as a much smaller number of people who drove up into the smoke and the flames—the firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel.
Then, of course, there are the journalists. Our job was to bear witness to the devastation and chronicle it for the world while the region was cordoned off.
I can’t speak for my CN&R colleagues, but for this scribe, those days don’t seem like a year ago. Not even close. I can still smell the smoke in the air, feel the heat coming from the twisted piles of metal and other smoldering detritus, and hear the sounds of propane tanks exploding.
It’s an odd juxtaposition with my post-fire foggy memory of mundane things. I couldn’t tell you what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can tell you where I was and what I saw on the Ridge for about the first seven days after the blaze. Indeed, the images are seared into my mind.
I see a tender-hoofed doe limping through the smoldering ashes of a Magalia neighborhood off South Park Drive, a fawn trailing behind with no fear of the human in their midst. I feel the soft fur and purring vibrations of the hungry orange tabby on Eureka Drive. I see the empty wheelchair in the parking lot of the still-burning Safeway shopping center. I see the gray husks of cars lining street after street. And still other vehicles—sometimes just feet away in the middle of the lanes—eerily untouched by the flames. I see a perfect motorcycle with a shiny blue tank dumped in a ditch.
I think about the messages from strangers flooding my inbox. The man asking me to check on his home off of Sawmill Road. The woman asking me to give water to her cats on Country Oak Drive. I feel the punch to the gut as I search their neighborhoods only to find chimneys and a few blackened appliances.
I remember sitting at my office in Chico, typing away with my breathing mask on, and weeping after hearing confirmation that a few of my colleagues lost their homes. But I steel myself for the work ahead.
Here we are a year later with no end in sight. The anniversary is a milestone, but it won’t heal what ails our fractured community. I’ll spend the day reflecting on the past year—the highs and lows. Then I’ll take comfort from being surrounded by individuals who are dedicated to telling the stories that will help our community continue on its path to recovery—however long that might take.