Every time that Sue Barch has returned to Paradise, California, she has found the town almost completely unrecognizable. Her home was obliterated in November 2018, when a firestorm throttled up and over the edge of the Feather River Canyon and forced her to escape what she describes as a wall of flames. That blaze didn’t just consume her nine-acre lot and the house she lived in for 35 years under a canopy of towering firs and pines: Her family, friends, neighbors, job, and way of life were gone too. On the drive back from her last visit, a disoriented Barch smashed into another car.
“The entire context is erased,” she said from a rented apartment in Marin County, about three hours south of Paradise. “Nothing, other than the physical piece of geography, remains.”
Sparked by a faulty transmission tower, the Camp Fire ultimately consumed 95% of the structures in town, displacing the vast majority of its 27,000 residents and killing 85. It stands as the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California history, and it all but wiped Paradise off the map.