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Rebuilding Paradise
by Karen Pecota

Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard collaborates with National Geographic to present the documentary feature Rebuilding Paradise. This is the story of how the community of Paradise, California survived the horrific fires that killed 85 people, wounded thousands, displaced 50,000 residents, and destroyed 95 percent of the local architecture of their unique town and then their long journey back to recovery.

Our nation will never forget the destruction to Paradises' picturesque city on November 8, 2018. It was on this particular morning, a spark from a transmission line in the area collided with weather conditions causing a devastating firestorm to quickly grow and engulf their 141-year-old town, and the only main road coming in and out of the area, as well as, the surrounding countryside in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The community was trapped. It did not end well for many residents but according to Howard and his filmmaking team as eyewitnesses they noticed a community who've worked together to heal. Howard said, "The community went on to forge a stronger bond than they'd had before the catastrophe, even as their spirit of hope and resilience faced continued adversity due to relocations, financial crises, government hurdles, water poisoning, grief and PTSD."

The fact that Howard was drawn to the story of Paradise before and after the Camp Fire was not surprising. It was personal! Several of his family members lived in Redding, California-the closest big city to Paradise. Some family members were Paradise residents. Of those who survived, Howard wondered what the people would do without their familiar refuge. He had several discussions about the situation with his filmmaking team and the folks at National Geographic and everyone agreed that there was a story waiting to be told, so why not do it together. And, so they did!

At the onslaught of the crisis, Howard and his filmmaking team landed on the scene and unbeknown to them at the time, end up spending a year with Paradise residents, documenting their efforts to recover what was lost. Veteran documentarian and producer of the film, Xan Parker said, "I believe the team was able to delve into the community and their struggles in such depth because they embedded with the citizens of Paradise for a full year." He continues, "We wanted the film to give the audience a version of Our Town, so it was essential to make connections with the community. Ron is remarkably kind to everyone he meets, and that set the tone of our relationship with the people." Adding, "That's why the people of Paradise understood our purpose and welcomed us into the community."

Howard, his team and the National Geographic crew learned so much from this community on what needed to happen to rebuild and gave this list: Protect their environment, help their neighbors, plan for future dangers, and remember to preserve the traditions that created unity.

Of the 26,500 people who lived in Paradise, barely 2,900 people reside there one year after Camp Fire. Nearly 6,000 first responders battled the fire and rescued citizens. When the fire was finally contained on November 25, 2018, its estimated price tag on  the devastation had risen to over $16 million.

Howard says, "I saw this story of Paradise a classic arc of tragedy, resilience and community. We live in an increasingly complicated global society that challenges us in all kinds of ways." He adds, "The year we spent watching what happened in Paradise was sort of a reminder that community ads up to something. There is an emotional safety net in unity, and that's something we all need to recognize and old dear." Howard continues, "It's great to have your family-I'm a 'family first' sort of person-but there's tremendous value in having a real and sustained connection with your community." A desire to work together and stay committed to the mission can build and rebuild anyone's paradise.