A new Netflix documentary, Fire in Paradise, just premiered on November 1. It’s a sobering look at the Camp Fire that killed 85. The film gives viewers such a deeply personal and harrowing account of what it took to survive the Camp Fire, you may find yourself yelling at the TV or covering your eyes from the intensity. Heavy was given a screener to review the documentary early. This review has minor spoilers for the documentary. The Camp Fire started on November 8, 2018.
Reliving the Day an Apocalyptic Fire Hit a Small California Town
Everyone should watch this documentary. If you’ve ever seen a post-apocalyptic TV series or film and wondered what it would be like to survive an apocalyptic event, this movie provides a real-life example. The sheer terror that unfolded as the fire quickly grew will leave you unable to look away.
The documentary is only 39 minutes long, so it doesn’t require a large investment of your time. In fact, it moves through those hours that the Camp Fire spread very quickly. This intense speed of telling the story gives a foundation of urgency to the film. You can feel how quickly the fire is spreading through how quickly the survivors’ stories are also told.
There’s the emergency responder who broke down in tears when he talked about how he had so many close calls, he finally had to stop. In one of his last close calls, he punches his vehicle’s accelerator and narrowly misses being engulfed by flames. He sadly recounts how the people he saved may not like him because they had to leave their pet.
There’s another responder who breaks down when he talks about his last conversation with his wife. They both survived, but the memory of their fear and pain still haunts them a year later.
We meet a teacher who had to pretend everything was OK to keep students on a school bus calm, even while she personally doubted their ability to survive.
You may have never thought about how dark it gets in the middle of the day when a fire engulfs a town. You’ll never forget after the documentary.
The documentary was directed by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari (known as ZCDC), and it was produced by Gary Kout. It explores the story of the Camp Fire, which started on November 8, 2018 in Butte County, California near Paradise. At first it seemed like Paradise would be safe from a fire that was fairly far away in a remote region. But the fire spread and winds drove embers into the town ahead of the major blaze. In the end, 85 people were killed and the town was destroyed.
On IMDb so far, the reviews are just 6 out of 10 stars, but that’s only from 12 people. I would caution against using that score as a barometer for the movie or a guide on whether you will watch it. The movie is compelling and gives you a look at an apocalyptic event in the United States that you might never see again. (Hopefully, a fire this devastating does not happen again, but fires are still happening every day right now in California.)
One person who survived the fire wrote on IMDb:
November 8, 2018 changed my life, my wife’s and my community’s. This is not for kids or the faint of heart. This movie tells the fear, second-guessing, despair and speed of that day. Personal videos and dash cams are plentiful. Tears and destruction are over whelming. I dare you to finish this movie with a dry eye. You won’t. Remember those that were lost. And hug those that survived. May you find Paradise to be all it’s name implies.”
This review quoted above, from a person who lived through the fire, is the review you should heed when deciding whether to watch the documentary. You should watch it. But know that it’s not an easy view. There is even a brief about 27 minutes in where you unexpectedly see the skeleton of someone who died. So be aware of that going in. It’s not a documentary for children, but adults will walk away shocked and quiet for a while, in awe of what happened and what it took to survive. Then later you will want to talk about what you saw and heard with your friends and family.