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Watch The New Yorker Documentary | The Inside Story of California's 2018 Camp Fire | The New Yorker Video


00:17

[Boy In Red Shirt] Are you bringing it up there?

00:17

[Boy] Do not spill it.

00:18

[Boy In Red Shirt] Make room.

00:20

[indistinct chatter]

00:27

Aye, we’re lighting a fire!

00:30

[Girl In White] Yeah!

00:31

[crowd chanting Speech]

00:31

Our town might have burnt down, so it seems fitting

00:34

that we burn all the shit they gave us down too.

00:38

[melancholy instrumental music]

01:11

[hopeful electronic music]

01:22

[Student Announcer] What is up Bobcats?

01:24

Seniors, if you are applying

01:26

to a North Valley Community Foundation scholarship,

01:29

be sure to mail or drop off your application

01:32

by the end of this week.

01:33

[teacher claps hands]

01:35

[Teacher] Rest, rest, rest.

01:37

Mark your calendars for Saturday, May 18th

01:39

at Manzanita Place.

01:42

This year’s theme is A Walk Through Paradise.

01:47

Have a great day Bobcats and rise up.

01:50

[Virginia] Comin’ through.

01:51

Old person comin’ though.

01:55

[Male Student] ‘Sup Partain?

01:58

[students chattering]

02:13

[Virginia] Did I give you guys your calendars?

02:17

All right, here we go.

02:18

[Harmony] The fire was six months ago?

02:21

[Harmony] Mhm, that means

02:22

we’ve been going to this terrible place for six months.

02:26

[Teacher] We didn’t start until January.

02:29

Feels like it just happened.

02:32

Yeah time’s going by so fast.

02:34

There’s a part of me that envies my friends

02:37

that picked up and moved out of the area.

02:40

[Female Student] Yeah. They picked up, they left,

02:42

they don’t think about it, they don’t talk about it.

02:44

It’s like all, like, those schools shootings

02:46

you never hear about, like, and they happen all the time.

02:48

And then, like, it’s our town burnt down

02:50

and then, hardly even anybody know or cares.

03:03

People come and they want to ask us questions

03:06

and film us or make sure we’re okay,

03:09

but you can’t really understand what we went through

03:11

unless you, like, were escaping that day.

03:15

Everything that you thought

03:17

your senior year was gonna be,

03:18

has totally just been flipped upside down.

03:20

Never once would I’ve thought

03:21

that I would be in an airport building my senior year

03:26

and have everything taken away from me.

03:27

I was expecting for a rough senior year

03:30

but it’s rough in a different way.

03:35

[melancholy instrumental music]

03:40

[Harmony] I never realized how much I loved

03:42

being in a small town like Paradise, until now.

03:48

You feel at home and, like, it sucks

03:53

’cause I haven’t felt at home for so long

03:56

and when you do go there,

03:57

it’s like I wish we could just stay here

03:59

and I wish it was back to normal.

04:03

[car engine roaring]

04:06

[Harmony] It’s weird because being in Paradise

04:09

makes me feel, like, more relaxed,

04:12

even though it looks like this.

04:16

There’s my old dentist office.

04:21

Oh, there’s Ayisha.

04:22

I like your septum.

04:23

The only decision that I need to make

04:26

is if I want to leave or stay close.

04:34

[Harmony] Why not go explore,

04:36

if you don’t even have somewhere to call your home?

04:50

This is the last piece of my prayer life to the fire.

04:56

Yep, this is my fabulous room, which I love.

05:01

[gentle acoustic guitar music]

05:05

[Virginia] These are all the pictures of, over the years,

05:08

all the students I’ve had.

05:12

I’ve had brothers, and sisters, and cousins,

05:14

and even children of previous students.

05:21

I really want to get back into my classroom

05:24

and teach there again.

05:29

I haven’t taken it off.

05:31

That’s what we were going to be doing that day.

05:38

It’s like my room is frozen in time.

05:41

Now, my life is defined as before the fire

05:44

and after the fire.

05:46

So, this is all that’s left of before the fire for me.

05:54

[car engine roaring]

05:56

Let’s see if I can squeeze in here.

06:03

[car warning sounds]

06:04

Welcome to my home.

06:09

I would’ve been able to drive this to high school

06:12

but I didn’t have my license before the fire

06:16

and I was never able to drive it.

06:20

I hope I can fix it up in twenty years?

06:31

It’s weird, just the little things you find, man.

06:37

Here’s my pocket knife my grandpa gave me when I was four.

06:41

Not much left of it.

06:51

I just wish I could’ve saved something else.

06:53

[melancholy instrumental music]

06:57

[Kody clears throat]

07:04

I told my parents, even after this fire,

07:06

that I didn’t want them to sell the lot.

07:10

and eventually, whether I build another house up here

07:13

or I put a garage up here, do something,

07:18

this place will stay in my name, somehow.

07:25

When camera crews walk up to me, like, um

07:30

the first couple of weeks after the fire,

07:31

it was interviews and interviews

07:33

and, you know, that’s what made me upset.

07:35

It’s ’cause, like, I know my stuff was gone

07:37

and I didn’t want to talk about it.

07:40

I actually lost everything, like,

07:41

I actually only have my phone from the fire

07:44

and what I was wearing, like that’s it.

07:48

My grandfather and his family fled from Germany,

07:53

from the Holocaust,

07:55

and all the memorabilia, all the material possessions

07:58

that came with them, you know,

07:59

passports with red J stamped on them,

08:02

prayer shawls, letters,

08:04

all of that is just lost.

08:08

I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing is permanent,

08:11

and that’s something that I have to accept.

08:13

And if I accept it now,

08:14

it’ll be less devastating later.

08:16

And, you know, my town, I loved it but it’s gone.

08:24

[melancholy instrumental music]

08:29

[Harmony] I actually saved all my makeup.

08:33

[Harmony] ‘Cause like, it’s so expensive.

08:35

I know that sounds really bad

08:37

but I made sure to grab my baby blanket

08:40

since I’ve had since I was born.

08:43

I made sure to grab any pictures that we had at my house.

08:47

My mom grabbed my homecoming queen crown

08:51

instead of her medication, so,

08:54

that shows you what she cares about.

09:01

[Jennifer] It’s just so messy and so unorganized.

09:08

Oh my gosh, you look so skinny.

09:12

[Jennifer] Look at this one of you.

09:16

[Harmony] The housing in San Francisco

09:17

says it’s getting full

09:20

and I want to, like, just get it over with.

09:23

[Jennifer] How do you do that? What’s your next step?

09:26

[Harmony] Well I’d have to just do it.

09:29

Just say okay I’m gonna go?

09:34

I think you should go to Chico.

09:37

[Harmony] My mom’s a really awesome person

09:39

and I love her a lot.

09:40

But I have to think that it’s my life

09:44

and I should make the decision of where I want to go.

09:47

But it’s also is, like, two sides fighting within myself

09:51

because I do care about her more than anything

09:53

and I don’t wanna make her sad.

10:04

[crickets chirping]

10:05

Man, we should try to get up there.

10:06

Through that hold up there.

10:09

‘Cause who knows where I’m gonna pop back out at?

10:12

[Kody] You’ll probably end up in the chute.

10:15

[Male In Red] And then I’ll have to get shot out of that.

10:17

I won’t even fit through that, dude.

10:21

[Kody] I’ll give you a boost, the best I can.

10:22

[Male In Red] Right?

10:30

[Kody] My grandma had her favorite little thing

10:33

It was, uh, I am lost. If I am found before I return,

10:36

please tell me to wait for myself.

10:40

And I always read that and stood there like

10:43

what does that actually mean?.

10:50

[Male In Red] So, you gonna tell me

10:51

how the sunset is up there?

10:57

I had a job when I was fifteen and a job ever since.

11:01

And since the fire, I’ve been unemployed.

11:05

I’m kinda lost, tryin’ to get back on my feet.

11:18

I need you all to weigh in on my retirement.

11:22

[Female] Your retirement?

11:25

[Virginia] I went out, Sunday, to my classroom

11:28

and driving up there,

11:29

I got a moment where I felt like I was in the fire again.

11:33

I literally saw, like, flames by the side of the road

11:37

in my mind, you know?

11:39

And I had that terror again

11:41

and um, and then I just felt sad.

11:45

Just sad, ’cause I look around and it’s not what I remember.

11:51

The fire kind of burned a lot out of me.

11:54

Sometimes teaching, you feel,

11:56

you start the fall semester,

11:57

you feel like you’re serving a term.

12:03

I haven’t had a weekend off, except in the summers,

12:06

and then I’m taking classes every summer.

12:09

I just, I just all let it go

12:11

and think well, whatever happens, will happen

12:14

and I will be, I’ll be okay.

12:17

So, what Thoreau said, when he left Walden Pond:

12:21

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there.

12:25

I had more lives to live

12:28

and I had spent enough time on that one.

12:36

I have more lives to live.

12:39

[car engines roaring]

12:53

[fire truck alarm blaring]

13:03

I turned into a really angry person after the fire

13:06

and I didn’t know that I would turn out that way

13:09

and I took it out on the people that were closest to me.

13:11

It’s kinda, like, ups and downs right now.

13:14

It’s like, today is one of my ups

13:16

but, like, I don’t know, tomorrow

13:17

if I’m gonna be down or not.

13:18

Just like, how I wake up, it’s weird.

13:21

I cry a lot behind closed doors.

13:24

My parents, I don’t like crying in front of my parents.

13:29

I feel like we haven’t really had a chance to talk about it

13:32

and, like, every time I do, I cry.

13:35

And I don’t want to cry anymore.

13:37

It’s, like, I’m so over crying about it

13:40

but it was, like, a traumatic thing

13:44

that we weren’t expecting or prepared for.

13:50

[mellow acoustic guitar music]

14:00

[Jennifer] God, it seems like you guys were just going

14:01

to your junior prom.

14:07

You don’t look skinny, you look lean and beautiful.

14:12

Hey, oh my gosh, you look very handsome.

14:15

So yeah, the girls are, like, halfway ready.

14:18

[Girl] I’m not ready…

14:22

[Harmony] Before the fire, I had a stepdad

14:24

and he started being mean to me to get to her

14:28

and I feel like the cops never did anything to help.

14:32

We had to leave and we were homeless for a little bit.

14:35

And she works so hard to find a house

14:39

that we were renting at the time

14:41

and that’s when the fire happened,

14:43

and she was just really devastated.

14:47

She’s just so strong for everything she’s been through.

14:50

I just want her to be happy.

14:58

[Jennifer] Have fun.

14:59

[Harmony] Bye mom, love you.

15:06

[Jennifer] My focus was my daughter for such a long time.

15:12

Being able to, like, have place for kids to be at,

15:16

and be themselves, and feels like it’s my purpose.

15:23

And now, I’ll be lonely.

15:26

I won’t have them around.

15:29

I won’t be able to share things with them, you know?

15:33

I think that’s the scariest thing.

15:40

[Father] See ya bud.

15:41

[Father] Later Kod.

15:44

My family ended up better off than I would’ve thought.

15:48

We lived in a double-wide trailer up in Magalia,

15:51

and now we have an actual manufactured house.

15:55

I hate what happened to the town I lived in

15:57

but I love what happened to my family.

16:02

[train horn blares]

16:13

[Kody] Do you remember the fire?

16:14

[Kid] Yeah, my grandpa actually got trapped.

16:17

[Kody] Oh did he? Where?

16:18

[Kid] He got trapped over up in Concow.

16:20

He had like 18 people.

16:23

[Kid] And he was surrounded but he got out alive.

16:25

[Kody] Thank goodness.

16:27

[Kid] Successfully.

16:28

[Kody] You play football? No?

16:31

[basketball bounces]

16:40

[Kody] Yeah, I was there 16 years.

16:44

[Kody] How old are you?

16:45

You said you were…?

16:48

Yeah, a little more than your whole life.

16:52

[Kid] ‘Aight, see ya.

16:52

[Kody] Take care bud.

16:53

Thanks for playing.

16:56

[basketball bounces]

16:57

Yes, I would love the world to go on long enough

17:00

for a kid of mine to be able to sustain a nice life

17:03

and even pass on a future generations,

17:05

but until we find another planet to live on,

17:07

if they screw this one, we’re done for.

17:12

All I know is that I’m gonna help others somehow, someway.

17:16

I’m just gonna help people.

17:18

And either if it’s from other natural disasters

17:22

or in the hospital as doctor or a nurse,

17:25

or just as simple as a coach, of a softball team,

17:29

I’m gonna help people.

17:30

Yeah, it’s gonna be tough

17:32

’cause I’ve been trying to get a job

17:33

and getting jobs are hard.

17:34

Especially when you’re eighteen

17:35

’cause you don’t have, really, anything to back it up.

17:38

You gotta, you know, just find a taco truck or something,

17:44

But, yeah, I’m ready for it I think.

17:46

I want to experience life.

17:48

Me and my friends, we all realize

17:50

that this is our last year of high school

17:52

and that we were finally gonna be, like, you know, gone

17:55

and we were finally gonna get away,

17:57

but it’s almost like we didn’t wanna leave.

17:59

Like, we wanted to stay in this one spot forever.

18:03

[hopeful electronic music]

18:08

[truck engine roars]

18:11

[Female] I love you so much.

18:36

[Male Teacher] All right now,

18:37

teacher of the year as voted on by students:

18:40

[students cheer and applaud]

18:50

We have been through so much, so much.

18:54

And as you know, I’ve lost it all too.

18:57

And I’m graduating with you too this year, so.

19:02

I’m the class of 2019.

19:05

[students cheer and applaud]

19:14

[male teacher continues speaking]

19:18

[melancholy guitar music]

19:21

My others burned up.

19:47

I’m gonna miss the kids so much, you know?

19:53

There’s something that happens in a classroom that’s magic.

20:01

I didn’t know it would come at the end of so much loss.

20:07

[tattoo needle buzzes]

20:12

[Tattoo Artist] Not too hurtful?

20:18

Run me through the particulars again, man.

20:24

[Tattoo Artist] Yeah, yeah.

20:26

For, like, twenty years my dad had this truck

20:29

and, uh, my dad had fixed the truck up.

20:33

He swapped me driver seat as I was, like, nine years old

20:38

And, uh, it burned in the fire.

20:41

[Tattoo Artist] Well now you got it,

20:43

a piece of it forever.

20:51

Um, I’m officially going to San Francisco.

20:55

[Boy In Black T-Shirt] Nice.

20:57

[Harmony] Yeah I signed,

20:58

I did all the stuff for it last night.

21:01

Like actually, like, enrolled and stuff.

21:04

[Girl in Black T-Shirt] When do you go to orientation?

21:06

[Harmony] We don’t have, like, a calendar yet.

21:07

We need to sign up.

21:09

♪ That’s not all what it seems ♪

21:10

[girl rapping and laughing]

21:15

[people cheering and screaming]

21:16

♪ It’s not all what it seems ♪

21:20

[Harmony] It’s definitely shocking

21:21

and it’s, like, terrible

21:24

when we hear about another fire or something.

21:26

Because when you go through that,

21:28

it’s not just after the fire it’s gone, it’s over.

21:32

Something needs to change

21:34

and I feel like that’s probably our generation.

21:43

The fire, kind of, made all of us have to grow up

21:47

sooner than we’d like.

21:50

This summer is gonna be the last time I can be a kid.

21:54

Although I’m, like, scared to be an adult and on my own,

21:58

I feel like I’m ready for it.

22:11

[slow, intense electronic music]

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