A Town That Fire Burned Down

This was part of the First Assembly of God church. The burned chairs were still in stacks.

Today I went to Paradise, California, where search and rescue teams are accompanied by cadaver dogs, sifting through what’s left of homes and businesses. Wildfires, like tornadoes, act capriciously. Two houses on one side of a street look untouched, while across the street there’s nothing left but mangled metal and ash. Overall Paradise is just one giant scene of devastation, though. Up close you can see what remains of a lot of kitchens, because the ovens are still kind of around, and occasionally items survived, like couple of ceramic mugs. I spotted a yellow bumble bee mug because it was the only shock of color among so much white and gray.

Every survivor you talk to tells a harrowing story. A lot of them seem sanguine when they say to me, “Home’s gone. All gone.” They note the tunnel of fire, or a ring of fire that they drove through to escape down. They tell me about cars exploding behind them. The traffic as they tried to get out. The lone evacuees on the side of the street with their dogs that they encouraged to jump onto the beds of their pickups. Their neighbors running — running — from the heat and flames. To imagine that night is to imagine hell. And somehow so many people actually made it out alive.

Last week, in the first days of the fire, I was in Boston hosting Here and Now, our national program that originates from WBUR. I was in the comfort of a studio, talking with people from Butte County over a phone connection. We could all hear the weariness in their voices. The reporter in me thought, what am I doing in a studio? I have to be there.

I eventually made it here 10 days after the flames first raged. It took me awhile because I had fill-in hosting duty for a podcast, too. Last night the camaraderie and connection was clear for the three of us who were here for NPR: We are all former foreign correspondents who had been in the muck and wanted to be here. For Kelly and Leila, who both lived so long in the Middle East — they’d seen so many towns felled by armies and saw the parallels. “Parts of Paradise look like Fallujah,” Leila said to me. This is the kind of story that had it happened overseas, we’d probably be there for weeks.

This is California’s most destructive and deadly fire yet, but this is also part of a much larger story about climate change and its refugees. It’s a migration story. And it’ll continue.

A former Sears is now a disaster recovery center for victims who need federal and state assistance in putting their lives back together.

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On One Hand, I’m In California, On The Other, Moving Sucks

The boxes finally arrived from Korea! All were accounted for.

Two shipments of hundreds of boxes were involved: one from DC, which was from the storage unit I hadn’t seen since early 2015, and another from the shipping container that came over from Korea.┬áNow both are finally, finally here in Los Angeles.

(Have you noticed that Los Angeles is pronounced frighteningly incorrectly? How do native Spanish speakers deal with this? As a running joke my colleague at NPR West and I keep over-pronouncing it Lohs Anhuhlays just to amuse ourselves.)

The Korea stuff was packed in matching boxes but the boxes have a real stench to them and I want them out of my house but that would require me going through the remaining boxes that the movers didn’t unpack. And I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to write this post.

Some things that happened:

I went to DC to oversee the storage unit move but got lost inside the rows and rows of storage units. Things got so desperate I even picked up one of those emergency phones to alert someone for help but NO ONE WAS ON THE OTHER END. Eventually I figured things out but then I couldn’t unlock the combo lock I put on there so I had to get the lock axed off. Finally inside the unit, I found some pure gold, like the ad from that time I advertised juniors clothes for the PX circular (the equivalent of the Target or Walmart on American military bases around the world) wearing a DISCMAN, yes a discman.

Back in the day there were portable devices that played something called compact discs, which stored media on them.

Sitting around at bars in DC I overheard conversations about:

  1. Oil exploration
  2. How sound bites are rigged against the speaker because of the way their words are cut
  3. Appropriations committees

Note: No one here in West LA seems to know what NPR is and I kind of like it.

My children are going through a lot of transition and I’m so proud of them. The oldest one and the middle one are both in school now, and both are awesome schools but they each have so many events and social activities that I feel it’s really cramping my social activity flexibility. Thank goodness I have ride-or-die pals here in the area for the following emergencies so far:

  1. Low blood sugar, weepy and longing for a home-cooked Indian meal on my move day, which Raina brought over in the middle of her work day
  2. Needing to drink and ponder life’s great mysteries on short notice
  3. Last-minute tonkotsu ramen fixes

I didn’t notice these were all food/bev emergencies until I jotted them down just now.

My days are being dominated by school drop offs and pick ups that require driving, finding street parking, parking and then walking a child onto campus before being able to say goodbye (as opposed to our door-to-door bus service we had in Korea in which the girls were just carried off and dropped off from the high rise).

We can’t find anything. Half of my conversations with Matt Stiles are “Have you seen my X” and trying to maintain some semblance of civility with one another but really wanting to knife each other since there are box cutters everywhere but not really but kind of really because moving sucks.

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