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432 pages, Hardcover
First published August 17, 2021
At 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the water and sap stored in tree trunks began to boil. The trees sweated until--their cell walls bursting--they combusted.At 6:15 am on November 8, 2018, a spark ignited next to a transmission tower situated near the town of Paradise. Two hours later, the entire town was in flames. What follows is the harrowing tale of the people of this community as they struggled to stay alive in the inferno, then afterwards as they tried to understand what happened and how to move on and rebuild.
The wind slammed against the Harding-era transmission tower, ripping a heavy electrical line from its brittle iron hook. It was 6:15 A.M. The 143-pound, 115-kilovolt braided aluminum wire—known as a jumper cable—fell through the air. A piece of the rusted hook fell with it. The energized line produced a huge bolt of electricity, reaching temperatures up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit and zapping the steel tower like lightning as it charred the pillar black. Droplets of molten metal sprayed into the dry grass. That’s all it took.------------------------------------
…this was how the fire spread so quickly: It wasn’t a single unbroken front but a hail of embers.Welcome to the new normal.
…this book is the product of more than five hundred interviews and nearly five years of full-time wildfire coverage. I even enrolled in a professional firefighting academy to better understand fire…It’s the product of coming to love a community that I embedded in: spending hours strolling across Paradise on my evening walks, buying ice cream sandwiches from the Holiday Market, eating more containers of green curry from Sophia’s Thai than I can count. The people whose lives I’ve chronicled in this book offered me unfettered access to their day-to-day lives without any expectations. They were not compensated for their time. - from Acknowledgments
Early in her fire reporting, Johnson noticed that many fire stories—hers included—sounded similar; they often relied on the same beats, the same kinds of quotes, the same tropes. (A woman who left her wedding ring at home, for example, only for it to burn.) Johnson began to wonder if disaster fatigue happened when stories felt predictable. So she changed her approach to make the fire secondary, a “supporting character” in a more surprising and nuanced human story—and readers paid attention. Too often, she said, coverage tries to hit people over the head with a “climate change caused this” moral. “I’m now thinking more like, What does climate change feel like? If we changed the model, maybe people will listen more, and we can do more work with our storytelling. - from the Columbia Journalism Review interviewOne can only hope.