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Summary and book reviews of Fire in Paradise by Alastair Gee

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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  • Published:
    May 2020, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

The harrowing story of the most destructive American wildfire in a century.

There is no precedent in postwar American history for the destruction of the town of Paradise, California. On November 8, 2018, the community of 27,000 people was swallowed by the ferocious Camp Fire, which razed virtually every home and killed at least 85 people. The catastrophe seared the American imagination, taking the front page of every major national newspaper and top billing on the news networks. It displaced tens of thousands of people, yielding a refugee crisis that continues to unfold.

Fire in Paradise is a dramatic and moving narrative of the disaster based on hundreds of in-depth interviews with residents, firefighters and police, and scientific experts. Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano are California-based journalists who have reported on Paradise since the day the fire began. Together they reveal the heroics of the first responders, the miraculous escapes of those who got out of Paradise, and the horrors experienced by those who were trapped. Their accounts are intimate and unforgettable, including the local who left her home on foot as fire approached while her 82-year-old father stayed to battle it; the firefighter who drove into the heart of the inferno in his bulldozer; the police officer who switched on his body camera to record what he thought would be his final moments as the flames closed in; and the mother who, less than 12 hours after giving birth in the local hospital, thought she would die in the chaotic evacuation with her baby in her lap. Gee and Anguiano also explain the science of wildfires, write powerfully about the role of the power company PG&E in the blaze, and describe the poignant efforts to raise Paradise from the ruins.

This is the story of a town at the forefront of a devastating global shift―of a remarkable landscape sucked ever drier of moisture and becoming inhospitable even to trees, now dying in their tens of millions and turning to kindling. It is also the story of a lost community, one that epitomized a provincial, affordable kind of Californian existence that is increasingly unattainable. It is, finally, a story of a new kind of fire behavior that firefighters have never witnessed before and barely know how to handle. What happened in Paradise was unprecedented in America. Yet according to climate scientists and fire experts, it will surely happen again.

Before many people in Paradise knew there was a fire on the morning of November 8, it announced its presence with strange portents. Churning through the friable brush in the river canyons and uplands east of town, drawing power from the wind, it watercolored the atmosphere and flung little bits of itself far into the distance.

At a home in eastern Paradise, a man took his dog out into the yard for its morning exercise when he realized that the lawn was covered in burned leaves. It was so dark when another local rose at 8:00 a.m. that he thought the sun hadn't risen yet, though when he looked up he saw a red reflection in the murk. A senior went to a doctor's appointment and found that no one had shown up for work. But from somewhere in the distance he could hear metallic explosions. And at the Cypress Meadows nursing home, a manager was standing outside around 7:50 when a maintenance worker ran over holding a charred piece of bark: "This just came out of the sky. It was on fire."

In ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While the authors do discuss climate change, they also refuse to allow Paradise's victims and heroes to become symbols or martyrs in such a way that might inadvertently dehumanize them. Their depictions of these individuals are powerful and vivid; we genuinely come to know them. This is a powerful work of narrative nonfiction with a word of warning about the perils we face in a warming world, but it's also an eloquent and heartening illustration of empathy, generosity and hope...continued

Full Review Members Only (605 words).

(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The horror of the fire’s relentless advance is viscerally evoked, although the details sometimes verge on unbearable...Fire in Paradise has the narrative propulsion and granular detail of the best breaking-news disaster journalism; while the authors include some historical context, they largely refrain from in-depth analysis or attempts to draw broader conclusions from the tragedy. The main takeaway from their book is sobering: As many parts of the world get hotter and drier, we will likely see more fires as destructive as the one in Paradise.

Publishers Weekly
Gee and Anguiano vividly describe the conflagration without sensationalizing it, and their blow-by-blow reconstruction is balanced by background information on the history of wildfires and the links between their proliferation and climate change. This impressive report makes a convincing case that such tragedies as the Camp Fire are not a freak occurrence, but a glimpse of the future.

Booklist
Drawing heavily on the powerful interviews they conducted at the time and in the stunned aftermath, [Gee and Anguiano] have created a gripping account of the fire and how it affected the community.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Making a powerful book debut, Bay Area–based Guardian journalists Gee and Anguiano draw on their extensive reporting to produce a tense, often moving narrative...A riveting narrative that provides further compelling evidence for the urgency of environmental stewardship.

Library Journal (starred review)
A vividly descriptive, compelling, well-researched, page-turning work of narrative nonfiction, both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Author Blurb Michael Kodas, author of Megafire
Fire in Paradise is not only a riveting narrative of the unprecedented but long-predicted disaster of the Camp Fire and the tragedy it wrought on a California town, but a thorough analysis of the histories that led to the disaster, a detailed look at its continuing consequences, and a glimpse of the harrowing, fiery future that western communities face.

Author Blurb Bill McKibben, author of Falter
The Paradise fire will stay in our collective memory; like Hurricane Katrina, it was a landmark moment in coming to see the changes that we've wrought by shifting our climate. This remarkable account will drive home the human cost, as well as remind you of the power of the human spirit, even, or especially, in a crisis.

Author Blurb Dan Egan, author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes
Gee and Anguiano's on-the-ground reporting from California's deadliest wildfire is so riveting and evocative that you can almost smell the smoke—not just from the oaks and pines, but from all the scorched vinyl-sided homes, melted car tires, and exploding propane tanks. Their account of how a city of 27,000 burned to the ground in a matter of hours reads like a thriller?full of daring escapes, life-saving heroics, staggering loss of life, and bad actors. It's also crucial. As the world warms, cities across the arid West are increasingly at risk of suffering a fate similar to Paradise.

Author Blurb Annie Proulx, author of Barkskins
Fire in Paradise is the detailed reportage of people suddenly caught in a catastrophe that is spreading worldwide wherever there are forests—uncontrollable wildfire. This is a frightening book that will make readers take stock of their own home surroundings, regional infrastructure, and the values of our times.

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Beyond the Book

The Five Most Destructive Wildfires in Recorded California History

Satellite view of Camp Fire In Fire in Paradise, authors Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano capture the devastation wrought by the Camp Fire that destroyed the community of Paradise in California on November 8, 2018. California's hot, dry and windy climate makes it particularly susceptible to wildfires. Climate change has exacerbated these conditions, raising temperatures and making the area more prone to drought, which dries out vegetation, resulting in fires that are more expansive.

A 2019 study appearing in Earth's Future reported that California "experienced a fivefold increase in annual burned area" from wildfires between 1972 and 2018. Thus it is no surprise that the five most destructive wildfires in California history, as reported by the California ...

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