At the end of my first day photographing the remains of the Paradise area, I found myself on the eastern end of the burn. The fire had quickly come up the mountain from deep inside the Feather River Canyon. Once upon Paradise, it developed into a firestorm and left little of the community, most notably small pockets of the the business district, the hospital, and the high School. A forested park was also spared, its green splendor in striking contrast to the surrounding blackened neighborhood with 30% to 70% of its trees dead or dying.
Beyond the burn zone, the dense forest cover reappeared at the roadside, so thick that it was difficult to see the homes within. I recalled a conversation from earlier that day with one of the first residents to secure his permits to rebuild. "My grandmother warned us it would burn someday, and burn bad."
There was only one road down the mountain to the nearest city, a half hour away. Imagining the area overcome with fire, smoke, and whirl winds of blowing embers, I suddenly felt as if I was in a death trap. Even though the drive out through the burn area was wet with a late winter's rain, the feeling didn't leave me until I reached the highway.