Paradise May Have Seemed Vulnerable to Forest Blazes, But Homes Burned in Changing Camp Fire

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Several homes are left in ruins by the Camp fire. (Credit: Los Angeles Times)

Several homes are left in ruins by the Camp fire. (Credit: Los Angeles Times)

Driving toward Paradise on the afternoon of Nov. 8, Jonathan Pangburn was less worried about the flames burning through the forest than he was about the smoke. Black and thick, it billowed over the road like a dangerous fog, cutting visibility to less than three feet in places.

A member of the incident management team with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Pangburn knew the signs. Gray smoke meant vegetation. Black smoke meant homes, possibly entire city blocks. The Camp fire was no longer just a wildland fire.

“It was an urban conflagration,” Pangburn said. “It was structure-to-structure-to-structure ignition that carried the fire through this community.”

Located in the Sierra foothills at an elevation that favored Ponderosa pines, Paradise might have seemed susceptible to the ravages of a forest fire. But what Pangburn realized is that the Camp fire had changed its character upon entering the town — and in that revelation lay the hope for preventing tragedies such as this from happening again.

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