Paradise was a beautiful tightknit community; everybody felt safe in the mountains and the place always had a healing effect on visitors and residents. But on the morning of November 8, 2018 a fire started beneath a high voltage electricity tower just seven and a half miles away from Paradise. The line was almost 100 years old and was owned by the nation’s largest electricity company.
Whenever there are high winds, electric companies can turn off electricity in power lines in order to reduce the risk of wildfires. However that morning the company decided not to turn off the power because they felt that the winds were decreasing. The fire started by a narrow dirt track and firefighters realized it was too dangerous to drive a truck to the area. It was also too windy to fly so air support was out of the question. The fire looked manageable, but access was impossible.
The fire spread toward Concow where about 700 people lived. Firefighters were ready to contain the fire at the area and helped residents put out the spot fires around their property. But suddenly the winds started picking up and the fire started engulfing both sides of the road as burning embers spread in every direction.
A huge cloud of smoke was now visible for miles. Residents of Concow started running towards the lake and jumping into it. Some of the firefighters were trapped, others were busy rescuing as many persons as possible and the helicopters could not reach the area because of the wind.
As the residents in Paradise started going about their day they noticed the smoke in the canyon and started calling 911. At this point, the emergency workers had been told that the fire was not a threat to Paradise and that was the information they gave to the callers. But just a few minutes later everything changed and a mandatory evacuation was issued for the entire town. It was almost too late and police started running door to door to make sure people had left.
Evacuating the hospital was perhaps the most difficult task of all. Doctors and nurses had to load patients into their private cars, some just out of surgery.
One year after California’s deadliest fire Frontline exposes the dangers of a changing climate and what can happen when a power company is negligent.