CA Camp Fire
Trees and brush burn as the November 2018 Camp Fire blazes across mountainous California terrain. (Credit: U.S. Air National Guard Senior Airman Crystal Housman / Flickr)

Once in a while, a magazine article captures a lived experience with the immediacy and drama of a first-rate movie. Those stories, scenes, and images are likely to stay in a reader’s mind longer than articles intended primarily to inform.  By offering as visceral an experience of the extreme-event effects of climate change one can get without being directly involved, such pieces significantly expand our understanding of what is at stake for individual people and their communities.

Here are three such pieces about the two massive wildfires in northern California in 2018. Each creates a vivid picture of what it was actually like for the people who were caught (or chose to remain) inside a deadly fire. You won’t forget the tales they tell.

* “150 Minutes of Hell by Lizzie Johnson, in the San Francisco Chronicle (December 2018). The subtitle about this July/August fire is “The Inside Story of Death and Survival as the Carr Fire’s Tornado of Flames Stormed Redding – and Changed Firefighting in a Warming California.”

* “Paradise Lost,” by Kyle Dickman, in Outside Online (December 2018). This piece is about November’s Camp Fire. Its subtitle: “Inside the Most Destructive Fire in American History – and Why the West’s Cities and Towns Will Keep on Burning.”

* And a new piece, “The Hotshots of Helltown,” by Robert P. Baird, in GQ (April 2019). Also about the Camp Fire, this piece is the story of “four friends who fought the deadliest wildfire in a century.”

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For some contextual data about how wildfires in the West are tied to climate change, see this May 2016 piece in The Conversation by researcher Anthony LeRoy Westerling: “Wildfires in West have Gotten Bigger, More Frequent and Longer Since the 1980s.” (Note that the 2016 date is well before the Carr and Camp Fires.)

This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.

SueEllen Campbell

SueEllen Campbell created and for over a decade curated the website "100 Views of Climate Change," a multidisciplinary collection of pieces accessible to interested non-specialists. She is especially interested...