Jeri Jacquin

Coming from National Geographic Documentary Films, Imagine Documentaries and director Ron Howard bring the documentary telling the devastating story of REBUILDING PARADISE.

It is November 8th, 2018 and another bustling day in the small town of Paradise, California. Red flag warnings are announced through the media of high winds and warm temperatures. Later, that very afternoon in the Feather River Canyon, a fire starts. Within hours people begin to notice something strange all around them.

The winds knock down power lines and the call goes out when a fire is sparked. It is fast, it is furious, and evacuations are being called for immediately. The town’s response teams, fire fighters, police, the hospital – everyone evacuated as the skies became redder and redder filled with smoke.

Surrounding the small town of Paradise is an inferno the likes of which no one can remember ever seeing. In the morning, the skies were still as black as night. Families fleeing through streets in their cars with windows so hot they could not be touched. It is not until people see daylight and the sky can they believe that they have survived the nightmare.

After the fire is the reality that Paradise is no more.

Returning to survey the town, there is nothing but sadness, destruction and disbelief. Woody Culleton, the former mayor, drives down the streets to discover what is left and surprises as to what he finds. Smoke still rising from what is burned out and black. Officer Matt Gates loves this town and raised a family there. Telling the stories of what they experience the night before and the emotional toll.

Below the town, residents of Paradise must navigate finding a pace to sleep, eating and meeting with FEMA. The reality slowly sinks in that the life they have always known no longer exists. Having to leave everything behind, families are left with more questions than answers.

A month later, the residence of Paradise are allowed to go in and search through the rubble of their homes to find something – anything of their life. Visiting where the schools once were, the damage is extensive, and the memories are strong.

The Paradise Fire Department talk about how the ground has usually gotten some rain, but this November was different. The ground was dry, and the firemen agree that a fire such as this was going to happen. Lasting longer and being more extreme were part of the five-year drought and the belief they are on the front lines of climate change.

PG&E had an electrical transmission wire that was causing sparks and the fire followed. The citizens want the company to know what they have lost and how their lives have left them feeling shattered. Generations of families have lost their homes and there is a feeling that no one is listening.

James Gallagher, State Assemblyman feels that there will be people of Paradise who will not stay. Almost immediately the school district finds answers to get the kids into class. Mall space and other schools for classrooms they could use. For the kids it is sad that they cannot return to the rooms they loved but are rolling with the changes.

Paradise, CA – Michelle John, the emeritus superintendent of Paradise Schools, as she packs her home and prepares to move away from the town in the wake of the fire. (National Geographic/Pete Muller)

Officer Gates and his family try to bring Christmas to Paradise bringing the citizens together to share some holiday spirit. Three months later, FEMA delivers bad news and the citizens take on the town council. Bull dozers move in and the sound of chainsaws and log haulers move in. The red tape is extensive, and the meetings are a struggle and to add insult to injury – looters.

Enter the famous Erin Brokovich, and she tells the citizens it is time to hold PG&E responsible for the fire. Other attorneys are representing those who cannot fathom how the company does not take responsibility for the fire, the deaths and the after effect on the citizens.

Conservationists come in to help the town find answers regarding vegetation. The land management is responsible for what is in the forests instead of what was there before. Loggers did not replant and the forest structure changed. These changes explain how the fire sped through Paradise so quickly.

When PG&E comes to the town and faces the music, the townspeople want to know how they are going to be responsible and what financial assistance they are going to provide instead of worrying about their bottom line.

Now, drinking the water has an issue because of all the chemicals and going from the most drinkable water in the state to the most dangerous. The water contains Benzine which means showering or even having babies isn’t recommended. It could be years before that become manageable.

Neighbors get together to talk because that is the only way to handle what is going on around them. Relying on one another for support is what keeps them pushing forward, no matter how tired they may be, they want to stand together.

Six months later, the destruction is still everywhere but a few people have found their way – home. One-person, Woody Culleton finally has a permit to rebuild, the school gets to have their celebration and it feels as if there are bits of ‘normal’ in this small town.

Nine months later, a controlled burn in Paradise has the neighbors nervous but those who know this needs to be done are aware of what needs to be done. So, life goes on, high school is back in session, houses are being built and family dynamics changing and not always the way they should.

One year later, PG&E has a settlement agreement with the wildfire victims but that does not mean their troubles will be over. People coming back is difficult, some cannot bring themselves to come back. But some know where their heart needs to be.

National Geographic Documentary Films are committed to bringing the world premium documentaries that cover timely, provocative and globally relevant stories from the very best documentary filmmakers in the world. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for over 130 years, and today we are committed to going deeper, going further, and continuing to push boundaries through the beauty and power of documentary filmmaking. For more please visit www.films.nationalgeographic.com

With an instinct for what stories matter, Ron Howard and Brian Glaser have created films, television shows and documentaries that go to the core material of lives and shaping storytelling to make a personal and emotional connection. For more please visit www.imagine-entertainment.com.

Watch the firefighters, police and emergency responders through the clips taken by the citizens of Paradise escaping is absolutely stunning in the fact that to see it is one thing, and it made me jittery, but knowing people survived all of it is nothing short of a miracle. The documentary follows Paradise from that moment until a year later and it shows the grit of this town.

My son-in-law is a wildlands firefighter, and this is as close as I ever want to be to knowing what it is that he and his fellow fighters experience. Trying to save everything around them is compelling and thanking them doesn’t seem quite enough.

This documentary will shock, jaw drop, cause uncontrollable tears, frustration, aggravation, knowledge but most of all – hope that in the midst of what they experienced, they still believe that they’d rather live in Paradise.

In the end – just like that horrible day, they will all find the light!