Advanced Laboratory for Visual Anthropology

When the Smoke Clears: A Town's Resilience During the Deadliest Wildfire in California History

2021 / 27 minutes / Directed by Jai Dhillon

In the early morning hours of November 8, 2018, as the residents of the Northern California town of Paradise were getting ready for the day, a strange saucer-shaped cloud appeared on the horizon. Some were concerned, others unaware until the event disrupted their lives in what seemed like an instant. A wildfire in Pulga some 25 miles away quickly raged out of control like a runaway train jumping its tracks, heading toward Paradise, giving residents only a short time to escape. As bumper to bumper traffic poured out of Paradise and nearby Magalia into Chico, flames engulfed both sides of the highway as people feared for their lives. Twenty-four hours later, much of Paradise was burnt to the ground, and almost 20,000 residents were displaced, not knowing whether their homes were still standing. When the Smoke Clears follows the fire from its inception to its aftermath almost two years later. Interviews with residents and community leaders chronicle their initial reactions to the fire, the shock of displacement and loss, and their hope and resilience in the rebuilding of this close-knit community.

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