So, the fire. That was pretty horrifying.
It seems as though there’s not much room to cast blame around, though I understand why a lot of people feel blame ought to go somewhere.
Apparently cell service was very, very poor in the town, so a lot of residents didn’t have cell phones or didn’t get the warnings; also the warning system in place, which did call landlines as well as cells, could not make 10,000 calls per minute. That would have been nice, but no. I don’t hear my landline phone if it rings at night; it’s upstairs. I turn my cell on airplane at night to conserve the battery; reception is so terrible that the charge runs down super fast if I leave my phone on. I completely understand why a lot of the residents did not get the warnings.
The fire started early in the morning and reached the town at an hour that was still early-ish, and then the evacuation plan that might have worked for a fire moving at a rate of one football field per minute wasn’t adequate for a fire moving at a rate of one football field per second, which is one estimate I’ve seen. Hard to imagine how incredibly fast this fire was moving as it approached the town.
And finally, Paradise was built in a place where all the roads were constrained by geographical features: no way to put in anything wide. Gridlock was inevitable, probably.
It’s probably true that aggressively cleaning out the underbrush would have helped. Or staging small fires at safe intervals, but that’s trickier than some proposals make it seem, because if there’s a drought for several years, then there’s no safe time for a burn. A buddy system would have been nice. Not error-proof by any means, but very useful for those who didn’t have good phone contact, probably.
So, honestly, although things could probably have been handled better, especially if authorities had had a time machine so they knew how fast that fire would move, it looks like most likely things couldn’t have been handled much better, given the way events unfolded. Here’s an article about this.
It was just a terrible place for a town. You could say that about a lot of towns after the fire or earthquake or hurricane hits, of course.
Here’s a good video. I admire the calm of the father who’s driving his sons out of the inferno. If you watch long enough, you’ll see the darkness give way to daylight as the car emerges from the smoke. It’s impossible to believe this video was shot during the daytime until that happens.
“So,” I asked, “Is it all gone? Is the green stone house gone?”
“It’s all gone,” Mr. Noble said. “All except the trees. The orchard survived.”
“What? How’s that possible?”
“My trees were still all green and full of leaves and fruit. There was a fire break I put in years ago and have been improving. When the fire got to our place there was no easy food to be had from my apple trees. They were too moist and out of reach. The fire went around them. My trees are still there. The orchard made it.”
That makes me unreasonably happy. I’m glad something survived in Paradise. If no one wants to build a town there again — which would be very reasonable — maybe the whole area could be turned into orchards.