A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, CA on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Photo by Noah Berger)

California has been hit hard in recent years by wildfires, but the deadliest and most destructive one in its history was the Camp Fire. On the morning of November 8, 2018, a spark turned into a firestorm that barrelled through the town of Paradise, killing 85 people, causing several firefighter injuries and displacing 50,000 residents.

As we near the two-year anniversary of the Camp Fire, CalMatters examined the issues and the experiences around California wildfires through the lens of “Rebuilding Paradise,” a new documentary by Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard. Inspired by his mother-in-law who used to live in Paradise, Howard’s film combines heart-pounding visuals of fast-moving wildfire, heart-breaking takes of people whose lives were ravaged by disaster, and a heart-warming story about a shaken community that finds resiliency by coming together to recover what was lost and start rebuilding.

In the two-part virtual event, we discussed what rebuilding and resiliency mean in fire-prone California and the Western U.S. This event happened on Oct. 21. You can watch a recording of the event below, or on our YouTube channel.

Panel 1

CalMatters environment reporter Rachel Becker moderated a Q&A with people involved in the film, discussing the Camp Fire’s massive impact on a town, its residents and California history. Participants shared their experiences while filming “Rebuilding,” lessons they learned along the way, and advice they have for residents of other Paradise-like hamlets around the Western U.S.

  • Woody Culleton, former mayor of Paradise
  • Michelle John, former superintendent of Paradise Unified School District
  • Xan Parker, producer of “Rebuilding Paradise”
  • Ken Pimlott, former chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire)

Panel 2

Julie Cart, CalMatters’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning environment reporter, interviewed some of the people tasked with preparing California for its year-round fire season and for making Golden State residents more resilient. From forest management and fire prevention to home hardening and higher insurance premiums, the discussion explored practical solutions, challenges and ideal strategies.

  • Bill Dodd, state senator (D-Napa)
  • Lenya Quinn-Davidson, fire advisor, University of California Cooperative Extension
  • Michael Garcia, fire chief for the City of Laguna Beach
  • Ricardo Lara, insurance commissioner of California

You can read a recap of the event here. You can also access our resource guide, which has every resource, organization and article mentioned during the event.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Gary Reed with any commentary questions: gary@calmatters.org, (916) 234-3081.

Vanessa Richardson

Vanessa is a former business journalist who has covered personal investing, venture capital, startups and business management for publications like Entrepreneur, Money, the San Francisco Business Times...