‘Rebuilding Paradise’ looks at emotional toll of deadly fire


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Almost two years since a wildfire swept by means of his mountain city and just about wiped it out, Steve “Woody” Culleton obtained to place the ultimate touches on his new house.

Two redwood timber had been planted within the floor, a brand new garden and stone patio remodeled the as soon as barren yard right into a inexperienced refuge.

“We’re happy,” he mentioned. “We’re totally home.”

The landscaping marked the ultimate chapter of an extended ordeal that was captured in “Rebuilding Paradise,” a brand new documentary directed by Ron Howard in regards to the aftermath of probably the most harmful wildfire in California’s historical past.

Filmed over the course of a yr, the documentary focuses on the colossal cleanup and rebuilding efforts after the Nov. 8, 2018, inferno that killed 85 folks and destroyed some 19,000 buildings. It follows a number of wildfire survivors as they piece their lives again collectively and gives indicators of the city’s resilience regardless of many uncertainties about its future.

Howard mentioned he had his doubts when he went to Paradise to witness the devastation. He knew the city, having visited a few occasions when his mother-in-law lived there, and he was overwhelmed by what he noticed.

“I just thought, ‘Well, how are they going to come back on this?’ I mean, here’s a region that is just getting thrown so many body blows, death blows,” he mentioned. “How do you reply and get better? And the concept of rebuilding Paradise turned the query. Can it even rebuild?”

While it touches upon the failings of Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., the utility whose gear sparked the wildfire, and altering local weather circumstances that precipitated the flames to unfold at excessive charges, the documentary primarily focuses on the emotional toll of rebuilding.

Howard’s group turned near displaced households going by means of the trauma of dropping their properties, a police officer whose marriage fell aside below the pressure of the disaster and college staff who fought to maintain school rooms collectively.

Put by means of what he known as a merciless take a look at, Howard mentioned their struggles turned a case research for “what survival looks like, and the possibilities for real healing and also the inevitability of deep wounds and real pain that can’t be avoided in every circumstance.”

Michelle John, the colleges superintendent in Paradise, was below rapid stress to close the varsity district and enroll college students elsewhere within the space after the fireplace. She labored with different faculty districts to search out area for Paradise college students to stay collectively, and by the top of the varsity yr she pulled off a high school graduation ceremony many thought was unattainable six months earlier than.


“The kids lost everything: their homes, their sports teams, their stuffed animals,” she recalled. “Why would we take away their lecturers and their pals?”

Just a few days after the commencement, John’s husband died of a coronary heart assault. She attributed his dying to the trauma of the fireplace.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the stress of the fire and his overall sadness about what happened contributed,” she mentioned. “His heart was just broken.”

Now retired and dwelling in Reno, Nevada, she mentioned she nonetheless talks often together with her former colleagues to information them by means of the brand new hurdle: the best way to assist college students amid the coronavirus pandemic. She purchased a brand new property in Paradise and plans to reside there at the least half time.

“It’s difficult being away because I want to be there to support people,” she mentioned. “We have a shared bond because we went through this tragedy; the ties cannot be broken.”

Culleton, the city’s former mayor and councilman, was one of many first folks on the town to rebuild and moved into his new house final December. He mentioned he determined to rebuild a number of days after his home burned down and threw himself into the work to make it occur.

There was little time to replicate on the issues he misplaced within the fireplace.

“Why sit down and think about it?” he mentioned. “To me, it’s painful and triggers all kinds of stuff. I want to move forward.”

More than 260 properties have been rebuilt and the city has acquired some 1,200 constructing allow purposes. Paradise is slowly repopulating, a couple of grocery shops and {hardware} shops have reopened and Culleton believes the group’s coronary heart and soul “is still alive and well.”

People got here again for Paradise High School’s soccer video games, he mentioned, and traditions equivalent to Johnny Appleseed Days and Gold Nuggets Day have been saved alive.

Still, his neighbors are gone and Culleton acknowledges he could not reside to see the city make a full comeback. He mentioned he hopes individuals who watch the documentary come away with a greater appreciation of how treasured and fragile life is.

“What happened to us on November 8th is that we all thought we were going to die,” he mentioned. “You can lose everything with a blink of an eye. So I’m trying to live to the fullest.”

National Geographic is releasing “Rebuilding Paradise” in choose theaters and on-demand by means of Laemmle’s and ShowcaseNOW’s streaming providers.


Myers reported from Los Angeles.

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