Tag Archives: Paradise

Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy – Alastair Gee & Dani Anguiano


Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy

Alastair Gee & Dani Anguiano

Genre: Nature

Price: $12.99

Publish Date: May 5, 2020

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Seller: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

The harrowing story of the most destructive American wildfire in a century. There is no precedent in postwar American history for the destruction of the town of Paradise, California. On November 8, 2018, the community of 27,000 people was swallowed by the ferocious Camp Fire, which razed virtually every home and killed at least 85 people. The catastrophe seared the American imagination, taking the front page of every major national newspaper and top billing on the news networks. It displaced tens of thousands of people, yielding a refugee crisis that continues to unfold. Fire in Paradise is a dramatic and moving narrative of the disaster based on hundreds of in-depth interviews with residents, firefighters and police, and scientific experts. Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano are California-based journalists who have reported on Paradise since the day the fire began. Together they reveal the heroics of the first responders, the miraculous escapes of those who got out of Paradise, and the horrors experienced by those who were trapped. Their accounts are intimate and unforgettable, including the local who left her home on foot as fire approached while her 82-year-old father stayed to battle it; the firefighter who drove into the heart of the inferno in his bulldozer; the police officer who switched on his body camera to record what he thought would be his final moments as the flames closed in; and the mother who, less than 12 hours after giving birth in the local hospital, thought she would die in the chaotic evacuation with her baby in her lap. Gee and Anguiano also explain the science of wildfires, write powerfully about the role of the power company PG&E in the blaze, and describe the poignant efforts to raise Paradise from the ruins. This is the story of a town at the forefront of a devastating global shift—of a remarkable landscape sucked ever drier of moisture and becoming inhospitable even to trees, now dying in their tens of millions and turning to kindling. It is also the story of a lost community, one that epitomized a provincial, affordable kind of Californian existence that is increasingly unattainable. It is, finally, a story of a new kind of fire behavior that firefighters have never witnessed before and barely know how to handle. What happened in Paradise was unprecedented in America. Yet according to climate scientists and fire experts, it will surely happen again.


Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy – Alastair Gee & Dani Anguiano

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Should Biden and Sanders steal Elizabeth Warren’s climate plans?

Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the 2020 presidential race on Thursday morning, 390 days after officially announcing her run. Several months ago, the senator from Massachusetts was widely regarded as a frontrunner with momentum to spare. But her support started to waver in the lead-up to the first contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Ultimately, she never placed higher than third in any of the state caucuses and primaries she competed in.

Warren’s slogan, “I have a plan for that,” is an apt description of her biggest contribution to the presidential race — especially when it comes to climate policy. Over the course of her campaign, she released more than a dozen proposals to address climate change — more plans than any other candidate. Warren left no stone unturned in her quest to come up with an answer to what is arguably the biggest threat facing the nation.

Her plans offered solutions to problems as big as warming oceans and as small as inaccessible national parks. She had a plan to green the military (think zero-emissions vehicles and combat bases that run on clean energy) and a plan to base trade agreements with other countries on their emissions goals. The strength of Warren’s climate game lay not just in the quantity of her plans but also in their quality.

Warren’s candidacy may be dead, but her 14 plans could live on. And there’s reason to believe they might. After Washington governor Jay Inslee dropped out of the race in August, he encouraged the remaining candidates to crib from his climate plans, which he called “open-source.” Warren adopted planks of his sweeping climate platform and even hired one of his climate advisers. There’s nothing stopping the remaining candidates from similarly picking over Warren’s plans now that she’s out of the race.

“Any candidate who wants to win Warren voters should think seriously about embracing Elizabeth’s climate platform,” a Warren aide told Grist.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, the two remaining candidates with a viable path to the nomination, both have comprehensive climate plans. Sanders’ plan earned him an A+ from Greenpeace, which ranks candidates based on their dedication to phasing out fossil fuels and passing a Green New Deal. Biden’s plans got him a B+. But both stand to benefit from adopting some of Warren’s plans, which got more and more ambitious in the lead-up to her decision to drop out. Here are three plans that deserve to outlive Warren’s campaign.

“Stop Wall Street From Financing the Climate Crisis.” This plan is aimed directly at making sure Wall Street doesn’t leave Americans high and dry by continuing to invest in oil and gas infrastructure that could lose all their value in the transition to clean energy. Climate change, Warren says, destabilizes the American financial system by jeopardizing Wall Street’s investments and inflicting physical property damage (think the wreckage of coastal cities in the wake of catastrophic hurricanes or Western towns post-wildfires). She proposed using the regulatory tools in the Dodd-Frank Act — enacted in the wake of the 2008 crash — to regulate Wall Street and address those risks.

Warren’s plan for public lands. In April 2019, Warren became the first front-runner to release a sweeping public lands plan aimed at reducing emissions from public lands. She set the bar for similar plans from other candidates by advocating for an executive order banning new fossil fuel leases on federally owned lands on her first day in office. Most interestingly, she introduced the framework for a conservation workforce that would put a smile on FDR’s face: the “21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps,” which would “create job opportunities for thousands of young Americans caring for our natural resources and public lands.”

“Fighting for justice as we combat the climate crisis.” This plan has a lot in common with environmental justice plans from other candidates. It would direct at least $1 trillion to low-income communities on the frontlines of climate change. But it differs in one important respect: It uses wildfire wisdom from tribes to help the U.S. prevent deadly wildfires like the one that razed Paradise, California in 2018. In addition to investing in wildfire prevention programs and improved mapping of active wildfires, she aimed to incorporate “traditional ecological practices” and explore “co-management and the return of public resources to indigenous protection wherever possible.”

Will Biden and Sanders poach Warren’s climate plans? Time will tell. Her campaign certainly hopes they will. “The urgency of the moment calls for it,” the Warren aide said.

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Should Biden and Sanders steal Elizabeth Warren’s climate plans?

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Grab your apocalypse bag — it’s fire season in California

It’s officially fire season in California. Dry winds rush in from the desert to the east, smoke turns midday to twilight, people hurry from place to place in facemasks, and the electricity goes out.

That’s been the story for the last three years. The risk of wildfires has always been high in the fall when the wind that usually carries cooling fog from the ocean into the interior reverses course. But it has never been so consistently bad. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but behind it all is a warming climate that’s killing trees, drying out brush, and turning bad behaviour into disasters.

Meteorologists predicted the dangerously dry weather a few days in advance, and Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, let customers know that it would be turning off power to guard against windblown branches crashing into power lines. I was visiting my parents in Nevada City, a 3-hour drive east of my home in the Bay Area, when the lights went out on Saturday. The kids delighted at the novelty of it We set jugs of water by the sinks and made our way to bed by lamplight. In the morning, despite protests from the children, my father fired up the noisy generator he had hooked up to his propane tank, so we could do the dishes, cool the refrigerator, and check the news.

In Southern California, people grabbed their “apocalypse bags” of pre-packed necessities and made their way through jammed roads out of harm’s way. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and basketball star LeBron James were among the evacuees. James had to try four hotels before he found one with room for his family.

The search for housing was tougher in Northern California wine country, where evacuations from the Kincade fire have forced some 200,000 people out of their homes. People have been sleeping in churches and fairgrounds. Officials ordered mandatory evacuations from an area stretching from the active fire east of Highway 101 all the way to the Pacific Ocean as 70 mile-per-hour winds whipped the flames to the west. Some of the houses rebuilt since the 2017 fires may burn again. The smoke was dangerously thick in many parts of wine country, but farmworkers were still out picking grapes.

Many of the schools in the Bay Area closed, and those closest to the fire will be shut all week. More than 100,000 students stayed home Monday around Los Angeles. Firefighters worked to contain the Getty Fire in west Los Angeles, in anticipation of the most severe winds so far this year. PG&E expects to cut power to more than half a million customers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Sunday, when I surveyed routes for driving home, I found my options were limited. To the west, the Kinkade Fire was swallowing more of wine country. To the east, a handful of small fires were blazing. And in the middle, a wall of fire had engulfed the Carquinez Bridge, closing Interstate 80, our usual path home. We waited for hours. Fortunately, firefighters quickly put out most of the new fires, I-80 reopened, and we slipped home Sunday evening, gawping at smoking black patches on either side of the road.

The winds have calmed here in the Bay Area, but it’s only temporary. The weather is supposed to turn incendiary again by Wednesday. It’s just what Californians have come to expect. After all, it’s fire season.

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Grab your apocalypse bag — it’s fire season in California

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The power’s out in California. Is this what our future looks like?

You’d think a power outage would make things quieter, but not so here in the hills above the San Francisco Bay Area. When the electricity went off it was replaced with wails of rage and the steady thrum of diesel generators. When I rode my bike up into the streets where the lights went off, I saw people seemingly going about their business as usual, with perhaps a little more frustration than usual. And I wondered if I was catching a glimpse of a future in which we constrain energy to restore the climate.

On Wednesday, Pacific Gas and Electric, the biggest power utility in California, turned off electricity for half a million people. Why did PG&E shut down big swathes of its system? Because it routinely sparks fires. Last year, when the dry winds began rushing across the state, drying vegetation to a flammable crisp and knocking tree limbs against power lines, PG&E considered shutting off the power. It didn’t, and the utility’s powerlines started the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and pushed PG&E into bankruptcy.

This year, PG&E is taking no chances. It’s working furiously to cut trees back from power lines. But the company has deferred far more maintenance than it could complete in one year, so it’s also switching off the power whenever the weather favors fire.

This sort of thing could become more common as the climate heats. First, warmer, wilder weather is likely to increase the danger of big fires. Second, society may opt for power systems that periodically go dark in order to slash emissions. It’s a lot less expensive to build a 100-percent renewable electric system if that system doesn’t have to be on 100 percent of the time, as David Roberts recently pointed out in Vox. When you’re dealing with renewable power controlled by nature, it’s much easier on the collective wallet to guarantee that the lights will stay on 95 percent of the time, while allowing for some blackouts on the 5 percent of days that are abnormally dark and windless.

So outages like this are a good test run for a climate-changed future. They give us a chance to see how we might cope with less reliable electricity.

For months, PG&E customers like me have been getting multiple mailings and emails warning of the coming service cuts, yet lots of people seem caught off guard. Shoppers cleared store shelves of batteries and flashlights this week, after learning the shutdowns were coming for real. Cars cued up at gas stations, orders for portable generators rose, and drivers slammed into each other as traffic lights went out.

The state highway agency, Caltrans, realized that the shutdown would sever roads where they passed through tunnels. Without electricity to run the ventilation, the poisons that spew from tailpipes would turn tunnels into deadly traps. So Caltrans announced that it would cut off a major artery where it passed through the Caldecott tunnel, but then, at the last minute, got diesel generators to keep the fans (and cars) moving.

Some grocery stores are running gas-powered generators to keep food from spoiling, water utilities are using them to keep pumps running, and they are rumbling along at hospitals to keep people alive.

The fact that turning off (relatively clean) electricity could lead to the burning of more (relatively dirty) diesel is one of those unintended consequences that might not spring to mind without this kind of test. But it turns out this is a well-documented phenomenon: In disaster zones and anywhere electricity is unreliable, people turn to diesel.

How do people feel about losing power? Oh, they were not pleased. Twitter was even more swollen with bile than usual, if you happened to stumble into #PGEshutoff or #PGEshutdown. Reporters had no trouble finding sources that wanted to piss on PG&E, and it looks like someone in the town of Maxwell (north of Sacramento) shot at utility workers, hitting a truck. Some anger is understandable. After all, PG&E funnelled money it might have spent on safety to investors. But it also suggests some baser instincts. Americans, especially, get heated when inconvenienced. The sporadic gas-price spikes of the 1970s helped set off seismic shifts in U.S. politics. It’s easy to imagine this tide of venom turning against renewable energy if it came with too many brownouts.

Ideally, we’d use this experience to learn and prepare. We’re going to have to figure out better backup power systems than diesel generators for important infrastructure like tunnels and water supplies BART — the local commuter rail system figured out how to pull electricity from multiple parts of its system to keep moving (though it wasn’t perfect). Utilities and local governments are going to have to figure out how to make the electrical systems of the future reliable enough to keep people from losing their minds, setting fire to City Hall. Outage outrage is a thing. If only we could channel all that self-righteous anger back into the power lines.

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The power’s out in California. Is this what our future looks like?

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A romance novel about Hurricane Maria exists. Here’s why.

Nothing puts a damper on one’s romantic life like a Category 5 hurricane. That’s just one of the obstacles faced by 20-year-old former sex worker Dolores “Dulce” Garcia, the sugar daddy-dealing protagonist of the new book Side Chick Nation. As she tries to outrun her past by going from Miami to the Caribbean, she ultimately lands in Puerto Rico just in time for Hurricane Maria.

Climate change and colonialism don’t typically make for a sexy beach read, but Side Chick Nation, the fourth installment in UC Berkeley lecturer Aya de León’s Justice Hustlers feminist heist series, attempts to do just that — weaving action and romance into the vivid backdrop of Puerto Rico’s stilting recovery from Hurricane Maria.

Dulce, the titular “side chick,” is a world-weary pragmatist; she answers the call from a past sugar daddy looking to, well, “reconnect,” all while lying to Zavier, the man with whom she has actually fallen for after just a few dates. After Hurricane Irma slows the flow of sugar daddies in Puerto Rico to a trickle, she finds herself sleeping in a storage unit in San Juan, waiting for the next storm — Maria — to hit.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, she serves as a witness to both the heartbreaking reality of climate change and the exploitation that can ensue. She notes the international businessmen who flock to the island to manipulate the destruction for their own financial gain, making shady use of relief funds and devastating the island even more. De León draws parallels between Dulce’s experience as a “side chick” and Puerto Rico’s relationship with the mainland, which cheerfully exploits the U.S. territory in good times but abandons it when it is in need.

For me, as a Puerto Rican transplant who has reported on Puerto Rico’s recovery after Maria, I was intrigued by the novel’s premise. I talked with de León, who teaches creative writing at UC Berkeley, about Side Chick Nation and why she chose popular fiction as a means to get folks riled up about the climate crisis.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Image courtesy of Aya de León

Q.Why did you write this book? What do you hope readers get out of it?

A. The biggest takeaway that I really want for everyone has to do with Hurricane Maria and the crisis of climate and colonialism in Puerto Rico. I’m hoping people feel that intersection at a level of empathy. Part of what I was thinking of when I was writing was, in the future when this book comes out, the hurricane will have receded from the headlines and yet the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico will be ongoing. I just wanted to make sure that folks could connect to these human stories, this unprecedented level of this devastation at this intersection.

Something that was also super important to me for this book is [to reach] an audience that includes young women of color. I really like the idea of young women of color thinking of themselves as activists around issues like the climate. Being a part of the Puerto Rican diaspora and watching the island get hit made it clear to me that climate change is the top political priority. Climate is something that affects everybody and affects people of color even more. The perception of environmentalism is that it’s a white movement — and that’s not actually true. So I wanted to push back on that.

Q.Where did you get the idea to set the fourth installment of your Justice Hustlers series in a post-Maria Puerto Rico?

A. I was writing another book at the time. I had outlined it and started to work on it. Then, the hurricane hit and I was like, “Oh my god, I have to write about the hurricane!” It occurred to me that the biggest platform that I have was this Justice Hustlers series. I wasn’t sure how to make it make sense with the rest of the series, but I remembered one character from a previous book — Dulce. One of the things I was reading at the time was Salvage the Bones, a novel about Hurricane Katrina. It made me think: what does it mean for the audience to know what’s gonna happen while the characters don’t know?

Q.You went to Puerto Rico to research this book. What was that like?

A. I had not been back to Puerto Rico for a decade. I visited in 2018 about a year after Hurricane Maria hit. It was really intense to be back. One of the things that was so profound is that the whole island has signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There was some sort of emotional chill because people had been deeply impacted in a lot of ways.

I mostly was in San Juan where things looked more or less back to normal. Still, stores were closed and traffic lights were knocked out — and that was almost a year later! I rented a car and drove around the interior of the island, where I saw lots of FEMA tarps blue roofs. I definitely got a sense of the devastation. That was key for me — to just go and just bear witness. It was less about information and more about being present with the community.

Q.The book deals with a lot of really intense issues like colonialism and disaster capitalists while also telling this gripping, feminist romance storyline. Do you think popular fiction in general, might be the way to get people to understand the complex relationship between disparity and climate crisis?

A. I think popular fiction and fiction, in general, has always played that role. It’s hard to empathize with a historical event, but it’s easy to empathize with an individual. And that’s what I wanted — for people to connect. What does it mean to have your homeland devastated, your people devastated? Ultimately, I’m writing romantic suspense but I’m thinking of suspenseful situations that relate to big political situations — like Hurricane María.

Q. Can you tell me about the challenges of writing about disaster?

A. I just had to cry a lot. I had to grieve a lot. And I had to hold off feelings like being unworthy or unable or not up to the task. Here we have this thing that changed the Puerto Rican people, and here I am, this sort of west coast, mixed-heritage diaspora Puerto Rican who is like the second generation born in the U.S. How could I possibly be the person to write this book? Ultimately it’s just the reality of the disaster. Maybe I’m not the right person, but I’m the person with a book contract and I can’t write about anything else.

The hurricane changed stuff for everyone in the diaspora. We have to show up, and what I have to bring to the table is a book that is a popular fiction approach. This may be the story for people that aren’t gonna read Naomi Klein’s Battle for Paradise — although I hope everybody will read that too! I wanted the message to get to the places where I already had a platform. I can’t imagine having written about anything else. This is the story of my people right now.


A romance novel about Hurricane Maria exists. Here’s why.

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Burn. Build. Repeat: Why our wildfire policy is so deadly

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Burn. Build. Repeat: Why our wildfire policy is so deadly

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On the road to the Green New Deal, New York’s latest climate legislation may be the first stop

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On the road to the Green New Deal, New York’s latest climate legislation may be the first stop

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Lab-grown insect cells could be the planet-friendly ‘meat’ of the future


Lab-grown insect cells could be the planet-friendly ‘meat’ of the future

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Thawing Alaskan permafrost threatens local communities

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Thawing Alaskan permafrost threatens local communities

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Time is running out to pass New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act this session

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Time is running out to pass New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act this session

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