The rebuilding of paradise hits the families who lost everything in a deadly wildfire.
It only took a few hours for the devastating fire to destroy Paradise. Rebuilding paradise was something else entirely.
The deadliest devastating fire in California history struck the cities of Concow and Paradise in the early hours of November 8, 2018. A new National Geographic documentary from director Ron Howard begins with terrifying shots of that beautiful autumn morning that turns into an apocalyptic firestorm that follows the city's residents for the next year as they struggle to rebuild. And it shows that the causes of this natural disaster were also a product of human greed.
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Nat Geo's Reconstruction Paradise, which celebrates its network premiere on Sunday November 8th, begins with a harrowing dash cam and phone video showing the fire approaching and then devouring homes and schools. In a matter of moments, cars spill through thick black smoke, and fires burn everywhere, while propane tanks explode nearby. The worst part is the soundtrack: 911 calls from people begging for help.
After this intense opening, the devastation is revealed. Houses, schools, hospitals and businesses have simply disappeared – 18,000 buildings are reduced to ashes on the ground. And 85 people are dead.
The ashes of paradise.
We meet the survivors who have made it their business to rebuild their community. The families try to protect their children. The local police officer tearfully recounts what happened that day. School officials found space for children in makeshift classrooms in warehouses and vacant shops and were determined to return to the school soccer field for a symbolic graduation.
These painful human stories reveal everyday people's struggles for the unthinkable and invite you to wonder what you would do in this situation. Would you be ready How would you deal with it? Could you rebuild? What would you do if you lost it all?
Howard's film sensitively reveals how the common people of Paradise try to recover and still face further setbacks that offend the injury. After a month of tents and crammed cots in gyms and donated clothing, you are returning to rubble and twisted metal. The water is poison. Bureaucracy hinders the community. And this displaced, shattered life puts a cruel strain on relationships as families struggle to cope with it.
The people of Paradise faced greater difficulties even after the fire went out.
The 2018 campfire, also the subject of the nerve-wracking Netflix documentary Fire in Paradise, is an important story in many ways. It's not a tragedy because so many people have been quietly inspiring to recover. Nor is it simply a heartwarming story of overcoming adversity. It's all of these things – my eyes came on for about three minutes and stayed wet all the time – but it's also a warning, a cautionary story. The natural conditions on this November day were just right for a fire, as high winds spurred the fire to race across the drought-stricken dry land. But this natural disaster had a lot of man-made help.
Logging practices by logging companies have changed the environment over the past century as the fire was started by faulty electrical equipment. The company responsible was Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), which Erin Brockovich challenged in a 2000 feature film with Julia Roberts.
Most alarming about the rebuilding of Paradise is that it is only one story, one community. The firestorm was triggered by a decades-long overlap of causes related to capitalism and conservation and corporate responsibility. And on a larger scale, you see the effects of climate change not on graphs and sea levels, but on real people like you or me. "Firefighters live climate change," someone says, as forest fires get more extreme. Fire, floods, hurricanes … we all live it.
And at some point there will be no more reconstruction paradise.
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