Please excuse the smoke...
November 18, 2018 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Krystalynn Martin is a native of Paradise, California. She wrote this poem about the fire.
posted by agatha_magatha (27 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
We have lived here, dreamed here, built here, grown here, been here
together, in this world, these hills, these trees
That are now burning. This world that gives also takes
in clouds of black awful smoke, transformation of our lives
into this darkening of the sky. We can only move on, we
who have survived, mourning our lives that are gone, mourning
those left behind. We so often forget, this world, the many parts
that lead to burning. We forget each other, lost in the smoke.

And we have no choice but to mourn now, and to somehow
hold onto each other, in this world, enough to think of rebuilding:
survival first, then comfort, then somehow the renewed hope
we must find, to once again turn our lives to this land,
hoping we can remember, again, hoping that now a little
of the mourning, like a glow as from this fire, will continue
bringing us a little closer to each other from now on.
posted by emmet at 9:20 AM on November 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

California fire: What started as a tiny brush fire became the state’s deadliest wildfire. Here’s how - "By sunset, the fire had swept 19 miles over an entire mountain, surprising, trapping, terrifying and killing — the most destructive and deadliest in California history. Concow and the city of Paradise are largely gone, adjoining mountain towns devastated.

Eight days into the search, the death toll is 76 and rising. Hundreds remain missing; some 50,000 residents are displaced, scattered to relatives’ spare rooms, motels and a Walmart parking lot turned refugee campground.

Survivors, emergency radio recordings and accounts by officials depict the chaos of that nightmare: a staggered evacuation plan that fell tragically short, residents with no warning to get out, and gridlocked evacuation routes that became fire traps, forcing hundreds to try to outrun the fire on foot."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:29 PM on November 18, 2018

Wow, that article really drives home just how fucked things are and how fast everything went completely sideways. Like, people had literally minutes between realizing that something might be wrong and their entire life being on fire, and then when they tried to flee they found that the tires on their cars were already melted, or that the road was blocked with abandoned vehicles, and at that point they were just completely screwed and it was basically down to luck whether they survived at all or not. I hadn't realized just how little warning people were given. My main personal experience is with hurricanes, where you generally have a few days to decide what you're going to do about it. By the time these people even knew there was a problem, it was too late.

I really hope that we learn some lessons from this, at least in terms of making sure that people get some warning, evacuations are called for earlier and more forcefully, and systems are put in place for getting people the fuck out of there before it's too late. It really sounds like balls were dropped by people who should have known better, and that the death toll didn't need to be so high. Only time will tell for sure, but I hope something can be done so that the next ones aren't so deadly. It's a dead certainty that there will be more fires like this, and bigger ones too. We need to figure out how to get people out of the way when they come.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:06 PM on November 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also worth noting how this poem hits hard as surrounding regions (especially the Bay Area) have raised alarms about the severely poor air quality, but not really connecting it to the tremendous loss of property, homes, and lives coming from the Camp fires. There was a call-in radio show where people shared tips about how they keep themselves safe with the smoke with not enough mention of how to help our fellow Californians. Beautiful poem, and all too gut-wrenching.
posted by hampanda at 5:24 PM on November 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Related thread: Reloading a Boeing 747 'Supertanker' firefighting plane
posted by homunculus at 7:18 PM on November 18, 2018

Maybe it’s my social circles, but it sort of seems to me like a lot of my fellow Californians are in a state of shock/denial about the humanitarian crisis unfolding around the Paradise area refugees. The details of that evacuation and how many people died in their cars or homes has been hard to wrap my mind around. It feels like I’m hearing much more about air quality (still a big deal, but...) than the 50,000 refugees in cities like Chico and Redding that arent equipped to care for them, 600-1000 dead... can other CA folks give me a reality check? How much of a daily mental presence is this taking up for Californians in general?
posted by moonlight on vermont at 8:30 PM on November 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

600-1000 dead

Under 80 are dead. Unimaginably tragic, but that’s not 1,000. 1,000 are missing. Last year, at the height of the Napa fires, we had 2,000 missing, and 44 was the final death toll, as far as I know. We don’t know how many of the missing will be declared dead this time, but I’m certainly hoping it’s more like Napa, and most of the missing will be found.

How much of a daily mental presence is this taking up...

I know during last year’s, since it was so close to SF, everyone I knew was helping. Traveling up there, helping in shelters, dropping off gift cards and donations, holding bake sales to fundraise, and generally doing what they could. This one is more like 3 hours away from me, so I have to say, I don’t see that kind of reaction. I’m assuming people in Sac are responding the way we did last year. Last year, I signed up for that Airbnb program to match fire survivors with someone who had a free room to stay in, but 45 mins south of Napa was apparently too far away to help anyone, as I never was contacted. So I haven’t even attempted that this time.

Yes, where I am, more of the convos are about air quality, with the occasional “Can you believe?” or a personal story if someone we know lived there. Usually followed by info on a gofundme page. It’s awful, but for must of us, all we can do is send money.

Oh, and donate blood, if you can. I was the recipient of a transfusion this year, so I can’t donate until May of next year. I was disappointed to find that out.
posted by greermahoney at 10:15 PM on November 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, this poem was extremely moving. I have often thought, during the last week, “I’m breathing in people, right now. I’m breathing in a whole town, incinerated.” It’s a difficult thing to think about, and certainly, most of us aren’t talking about that part of it because it’s just too hard. It makes me feel complicit in the destruction.
posted by greermahoney at 10:22 PM on November 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

As far as I understand it, they don't even have enough resources to carry out thorough checks for human remains the burn areas. At some point there's almost inevitably going to be people whose remain are never found.
posted by carter at 4:43 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

How much of a daily mental presence is this taking up for Californians in general?

Depends on the Californian. I'm in far-east NorCal and a lot of my coworkers have family and friends in the area; additionally I am from Sacramento originally and a lot of my friends and family are dealing with the air quality. It's taking up a lot of mental space for me, but other peoples' mileage may vary.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:09 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

So my boss was down in Paradise all weekend volunteering. He showed up to work today looking like hell with red, swollen eyes, and raw, smoke-sore voice. When we asked him how things went he said that he was emotionally drained, that the experience was "life-changing", and that no matter how bad you think or hear it is? It's hundreds of times worse than that.

The fire went through Paradise at 800 yards a minute/30 miles an hour, and there's only one main road through the town, so there's a lot of people who burned to death in their cars. The fire burned so hot that aluminum melted out of engines. All they're finding is teeth and titanium replacement body parts. That 1000 people on the missing list? That's the missing/presumed dead list. There are actually more than 3000 people listed as missing at the moment.

Also the air is off the AQI charts and it's categorized as toxic. If my boss looks and sounds like that after two days (and our local air quality is good, since we're on the other side of the mountain), can you imagine what long-term first responders and evacuees/residents are feeling?
posted by elsietheeel at 8:37 AM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

Camp Fire 66% contained, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

My sister lives in Chico, she briefly evacuated but just returned. "I'm getting comfy with my new friend the mask," she says. It's supposed to rain this week.
posted by Melismata at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2018

"Following the lead of other fire-prone counties, Butte County contracted for a private warning system to alert residents in danger — if they had the foresight to sign up. The Paradise emergency operations director estimated no more than 30% of citizens were on the list."
(from the LAT "tiny brush fire" link above)
posted by mediareport at 8:55 AM on November 19, 2018

The lack of coverage on this is insane. I feel like a total asshole for not realizing how bad it was earlier, and it keeps looking worse.
posted by agregoli at 8:56 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Always look for the helpers.

Among the burned-out buildings, cooked car frames and fire-scarred trees left in the wake of the the deadliest wildfire in state history, one man searches Paradise for life on a smaller scale.

National Park Service Ranger Shannon Jay, who has dedicated the last year of his life to rescuing cats from California’s unprecedented string of destructive wildfires, is in pursuit of his latest “fire cat.”

posted by porn in the woods at 3:21 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Another cat story: Firefighter rescues cat near Paradise debris, and now she won't leave him alone.

FWIW, if anybody else was wondering about this aspect, I saw a tweet from a Seattle-area animal shelter about having Northern California cats available for adoption. Upon inquiry, they clarified that these are cats who were already in shelters needing homes before the fire (NOT fire rescuees), who are now being moved out of the area so shelters have room for the rescued critters.
posted by Lexica at 4:39 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Charlie Lloyd in The Atlantic: A Disaster of Our Own Making.
Disasters are never natural in the ordinary sense because they always could have been avoided or mitigated by human choices. In this way of thinking, everything that we call a disaster started as a hazard, and hazards themselves are only risks, not harms. If and how hazards become disasters is shaped by governmental, infrastructural, and economic choices, conscious or unconscious.
posted by suelac at 11:59 AM on November 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yeah, to second what elsietheeel said, I have a friend who lost her home in Paradise, and however bad you think it is, it’s worse. T shared this map a few days ago and it’s a sobering visual representation of the devastation in Paradise. The population skews older. A lot of grandparents are on that missing/presumed dead list. And a lot of dental records were also lost to the fire.
posted by Ruki at 1:17 PM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Paradise Lost
The Camp Fire entered Paradise’s eastern edge at around 8 A.M. and kept riding the wind to the northwest. Swarming embers landed on pine needles piled on lawn furniture or in gutters of the trailers in Pine Grove Mobile Home Park, near where Glotfelty had first seen flames. Those embers glowed to life and, soon, one trailer in a park of 76 was burning. The radiant heat bubbled the siding on the mobile homes next door, and those caught fire, too. Within two minutes, entire rooms were engulfed. Winds gusting into the fifties blasted overhead, flinging embers from new fires downwind toward buildings and trees. It didn’t seem to matter how well-prepared a home was for fire. The Gross family lived on an immaculately cleared compound in homes built of stucco and concrete. The embers poured through the vents. They fled with their houses burning behind them.

As Glotfelty sat in his truck, the skies went black. Headlights blinked on. People started honking, pounding their steering wheels, but where could they go?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:02 AM on December 13, 2018

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