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Staff Picks

Paradise : One Town's Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire

Emily Porter

August 11, 2021


When the fires cease and the ash settles, the towns and those who have survived pick up the pieces and look to a future after surviving an American wildfire. Johnson shows the destruction, trauma, and the stress these fires put on the land, and on the families who live in areas that come within the fire’s path.

Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire by Lizzie Johnson, Crown 

Paradise, California was exactly as its name implied, an idyllic location to raise your children and to foster roots, except for the fact that it happened to be in wildfire territory. Journalist Lizzie Johnson experienced the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, the Camp Fire that ripped through and devastated this small town three hours north of San Francisco. Johnson shares this story in a new book with a journalistic approach that interweaves her beautifully descriptive writing with the stories of several residents and their lives before tragedy strikes. The scope of the tragedy is hard to fathom, the fire almost having a mind of its own. 

How easily this parched land burned, incinerating with a soft crackle that deepened to a howl. […] The smoke heaved, churning with ash as it punched through the lower levels of the atmosphere, now visible to two satellites that floated twenty-two thousand miles above the earth. 

Johnson also shares the legends of the indigenous people of the Konkow tribe who originally inhabited the land of Paradise—legends of droughts and fire, and how they managed life amidst both for centuries before their land was taken. As the story unfurls, we learn about the root of the problems on the West Coast and how they’ve been exacerbated by climate change, problematic alert systems, and unkempt facilities. The West Coast has endured fires for as long as we can remember. Some of the fires help the trees reproduce and greenery become lusher, allowing life to flourish. But over the last decade or more these fires have run rampant, ravishing homes, taking lives and leaving cinder in their wake. 

It was ravenous. The smoke thickened, impossible to ignore. As the hot air rose, cooler air rushed in to take its place, pushing the flames up the slope. The canyon lay in the distance—a ready racetrack. There was nothing, and nobody, ahead to halt the fire’s advance. 

When the fires cease and the ash settles, the towns and those who have survived pick up the pieces and look to a future after surviving an American wildfire. Johnson shows the destruction, trauma, and the stress these fires put on the land, and on the families who live in areas that come within the fire’s path. 

About The Author

Emily Porter is our Community & Publicity Manager who loves conversing with the wonderful authors we work with. A film photographer and long-time film industry nomad, she has had a constant love for books throughout her life. When not at work she enjoys curling up with her cats, adding to her bookshelves, practicing yoga, and photographing new landscapes. Travel. Cats. Coffee. Tea. Film. Books. RadioLab. National Geographic. Patti Smith. Dinosaurs.

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