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Excerpt from Fire in Paradise by Alastair Gee, Dani Anguiano, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fire in Paradise

An American Tragedy

by Alastair Gee, Dani Anguiano

Fire in Paradise by Alastair Gee, Dani Anguiano X
Fire in Paradise by Alastair Gee, Dani Anguiano
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2020, 256 pages

    Apr 2021, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

"Leave the dogs inside, leave them water and food and go. Do you understand me, Ann? This is a serious fire, I need you to leave the dogs with some water, close all the windows and the doors and get in the neighbors' car... . I need you to do that... . You need to do that right now, OK?

A minute later, a man called for information. "There's fire everywhere, OK?" the dispatcher said. "There's fire in Paradise. We have fire all over Paradise. If you feel unsafe, you need to evacuate."

"I'm not sure. What do you ..." the man asked, trailing off. "If it was me I would get out of there," the dispatcher said. Another woman said she and others were surrounded by fire and trapped in their vehicles behind a fence at Ponderosa Elementary School.

"There's no one to come help you right now," the dispatcher told her. "If you need to drive through a fence, then do it."

Other emergency procedures were quickly and rudely tested. City manager Lauren Gill, Paradise's top administrative official, woke at about 7:00 a.m. and flicked on the lights to see if the electricity was on. Looking out her window, she noticed that the sky was a gauzy, yellow-brown color, and when she opened her door she saw a nasty plume. Checking her phone, she found a missed call from the Paradise fire chief, and ringing him back, she learned about the fire in Pulga. He told her it was still far away, but Gill knew she would have to keep the town informed, and she hurried to the wooden town hall. As soon as Gill walked in, she learned that evacuations had already been called. Paradise had prepped for disaster for years, but the speed of this one was inconceivable. "It's almost like you wake up in the middle of a nightmare," she said. "You think you're going to wake up to a day, and you wake up and you're in the middle of this drama, this emergency, this nightmare that's occurring around you." She told the staff gathered there: We're having an EOC.

Paradise's Emergency Operations Center is activated in the event of a disaster and comprises officials who coordinate the response. But during the Camp Fire, the officials went out to reconnoiter the streets and did not return because they were pulled into assisting with the evacuation and saving lives. Gill's phone was flooded with calls, and her staff soon told her that the power was out, as was cell service and the Internet, and that the town hall was in the path of the flames. Gill ordered the EOC to transfer down the hill, to Chico. She wanted to be the last one to evacuate, and she asked a retired fire chief stationed with her what would happen if the two of them stayed behind. He told her they could lay on the ground in the parking lot. Gill then asked if he had any protective fire blankets. He did not.

"OK," she told him, "then we'd better go."

Hurried escapes were proceeding at homes and institutions all over town. At Cypress Meadows nursing home, Sheila Craft, the admissions and marketing director, ordered an evacuation after spotting fire racing across the canyon. She made urgent calls to facilities in the valley to find places for residents: We have a fire up here and we have a crisis situation. How many beds do you have available? The team piled patients, some recovering from hip-replacement surgeries and others with dementia, into staff members' cars and police vans that had rushed over from the sheriff's office. At Apple Tree Village senior mobile home park, maintenance man Stephen Murray drove round with his horn blaring. He banged on residents' doors, and if they didn't answer he kicked the door down.

At Paradise High School, sisters Arissa and Arianne Harvey, sixteen and seventeen years old, were dropped off by their mom at 7:20 a.m. They had breakfast in the cafeteria—Arissa, who studied Spanish and Korean in her spare time and was developing a fondness for Russian novels, was excited for the cinnamon rolls, "so soft and squishy and very sweet and warm." Looking out the large windows, Arissa remarked to her sister, It's snowing. Except, of course, that it rarely snowed in Paradise. The sun, invisible, cast an entrancing glow.

Adapted from Fire in Paradise: : An American Tragedy. Copyright (c) 2020 by Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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