♪ ♪>>NARRATOR: Tonight…>>By noon we had conceded
that the town had basically burned down.>>NARRATOR: One year since
California’s deadliest fire…>>The plan was completely
overwhelmed by circumstances. But I think those circumstances
were not unprecedented.>>NARRATOR: …”Frontline”
takes you inside that day…>>The road’s completely
engulfed in flames. And I told my husband, I’m like,
“I can’t run through fire.” And he said,
“You’re going to have to.”>>NARRATOR: …exposing the new
dangers of a changing climate.>>We just did not anticipate
a fire that went seven-and-a-half miles
in an hour and a half. I don’t think anybody envisioned
that happening.>>Do you think you should have
envisioned that happening?>>I’m not going to answer
that question.>>NARRATOR: And a giant power
company under scrutiny.>>Is what PG&E did or did not
do grossly negligent?>>They’ve been on probation,
they’ve violated the probation. If PG&E was an individual
and not a corporation, I think by now they would be
in prison.>>NARRATOR: Tonight on
“Frontline,” “Fire in Paradise.” ♪ ♪>>Paradise is… There’s something about it,
there’s something with the country that’s… The trees are beautiful. Just living in the mountains,
and… It’s healing to be here.>>You saw hummingbirds and
butterflies. We’d sleep outside
under the stars. It’s a tight-knit community. Everyone is super-strong
and resilient up here. You never felt more safe than
out there in the mountains. ♪ ♪>>Good morning and it’s… A red-flag fire danger warning
is in effect. Up to 45-mile-per-hour gusts out
of the north today. Right now, it’s 57 degrees. Humidity down to 19% already… ♪ ♪>>I woke up early the morning
of the eighth. The wind was very strong. Pine needles were hitting
the roof. It’s a metal roof,
and in my half-asleep state, I thought, “Is it raining?” Any time you have the winds
coming with no rain, it’s very nerve-wracking. And we were getting so late
in the season, we were just critically dry. It was just like, please,
blow in a storm. You know, every now and then,
I like to wake up early and make the guys breakfast. So when the wind woke me up,
I said, “Well, this is a perfect time
to get a jump on it.” My phone was laying
on the countertop next to where I was cutting up
potatoes, and it illuminated. Said there was a vegetation fire
in the canyon.>>NARRATOR: Seven-and-a-half
miles from the town of Paradise, a fire had started beneath a
high-voltage electricity tower. The line was almost 100 years
old and was owned by PG&E, America’s largest
electricity company.>>The fire started,
as PG&E has admitted, from a piece of equipment
that failed, bringing a power line in contact
with the steel tower, so you had shards of molten
metal that got thrown down into the brush.>>NARRATOR: In high winds, companies like PG&E can turn off
the electricity in power lines
to reduce wildfire risk.>>We had heard that PG&E was
thinking about turning off power in, in several different areas
that were in danger of high winds and possibly
something happening with power lines.>>NARRATOR: But that morning, PG&E had decided not to turn off
the power. It would later say this was
because the winds were decreasing.>>I made one corner
around Highway 70 to where you can actually
see the Pulga Bridge. And so I took my eyes off the
road for two seconds, looked up, saw it and made my report. (radio static hissing) (people talking on radio)>>NARRATOR: The fire was
by a narrow dirt track called Camp Creek Road. Captain McKenzie decided it was
too dangerous to drive a fire truck down it.>>NARRATOR: He requested air
support to put out the fire, but it was too windy to fly. ♪ ♪ It was a very sinking,
very uncomfortable feeling seeing where it was at, um, and seeing how small
it actually was relative to where it was at. It was a manageable-looking
fire, if I could get to it. So…
>>But you couldn’t get to it.>>Couldn’t get to it. (radio static hissing) (woman talking on radio)>>NARRATOR: The fire was
spreading towards Concow, a remote settlement of around
700 people, about halfway between where
the fire ignited and Paradise.>>I got a couple of phone calls
from other chief officers asking if I was paying attention
to the radio. You know, I think like
a lot of people, didn’t really take it too
serious– we get a lot of fires up there. You know, I told them, you know,
it’s cold, you know, it’s in the 40s, it’s November,
it’s a nuisance fire. The incident command post was
set up at the hardware store
at Yankee Hill. And so we were preparing to
defend Concow and contain that fire. (woman talking on radio)>>Go ahead.>>…21-07…>>NARRATOR: Cal Fire–
the state fire service– began sending firefighters to
tackle the blaze in Concow.>>I drove up Highway 70 and the
wind was basically blowing all the smoke right over
the top of us.>>NARRATOR: The blaze was soon
dubbed “The Camp Fire,” after the road where it started.>>We were stopping down Concow, helped out a few residents, tried to put some of the spot
fires out around their house. They were relatively small, they
were ten to 15, maybe 20 feet. And then there was a point in
there where the wind just kind of started picking up, and the
spot fires that were not a big deal at the time started
engulfing both sides of the road. ♪ ♪>>My Pops had been in Concow
ever since I can remember, before I was born. It’s always felt so special. It’s at the end of Concow Road. And, like, at the top,
we always felt like nothing could hurt us
there. And it was home sweet home.>>NARRATOR: 21-year-old Jordan
Huff often visited her granddad, who lived on his own
on a small farm.>>He’d grow pumpkins
for the grandkids. So in October, when they were
ready to harvest, we’d have jack-o’-lanterns
to carve. And they were Poppa’s pumpkins and they were bigger than
anyone’s you’d seen. My Pops lost his leg in a
farming incident, but they’re the stubborn
mountain folk. He was always outside working
when we showed up, out in his wheelchair
working away. ♪ ♪>>NARRATOR: By 7:30,
the fire had picked up. The wind was spraying burning
embers in every direction. A column of smoke was now
visible for miles.>>My dad had called my Pops. He was out there in his
wheelchair, um, with a hose, um, putting out the fires that
were breaking out into his yard, and my dad was, like, you know,
“Don’t worry about it, you need to go. You need to get out of here and
leave.” And he said, “Okay, I will. I’ll grab the dogs and I’ll go.” ♪ ♪>>NARRATOR: Firefighter Jeff
Edson and a colleague were now trapped
down by Concow Lake.>>We came across four
individuals that were running, and they were waving
their hands at me, and you could tell they had
ember burns and stuff on their skin and their hair. Three of them ran and just
jumped straight in the water, ’cause they were taking
so much heat. ♪ ♪>>NARRATOR: At the incident
command post, Chief Messina was aware
this was becoming a major fire.>>Just be ready to call in
personnel that are off-duty right now.>>NARRATOR: But with
firefighters in Concow trapped, and aircraft unable to fly
because of the wind, he didn’t know how fast
it was moving.>>We typically get our fire
intelligence, what the fire’s doing,
how fast it’s spreading, from our own line personnel. Um… firefighters. What was different
about this day was the fact that as soon
as our firefighters engaged, they went right into
rescue mode. And they, they were no longer
able, nor did they really care, where the fire was spreading. They were too busy on rescuing
civilians, and, you know, ensuring that…
of their own safety. So we didn’t get a lot
of intelligence on how fast the fire
was spreading. ♪ ♪>>NARRATOR: The fire was moving
towards the town of Paradise, four miles away on the other
side of a steep canyon. In the past, fires have rarely
crossed the canyon, but the Camp Fire was now
spreading at a rate of 80 football fields a minute. (telephone ringing)>>The calls started coming in
slowly as people were waking up in the morning, having their
coffee, looking out the window, and seeing what I couldn’t see. (telephone ringing)>>NARRATOR: Dispatcher Carol
Ladrini had been trained to handle calls reporting fires.>>Do you see ashes? Do you see flames? How close is it? Because kind of far off could be
across the street or two canyons away.>>NARRATOR: Cal Fire normally
notifies Paradise Police if a fire is threatening the
town, but they hadn’t done so.>>NARRATOR:
As more calls came in, Ladrini says she contacted
Cal Fire, and they told her the fire
was north of Concow– miles from Paradise.>>Did they say anything about
the size or the intensity of the fire?
>>No. At that point, they didn’t,
and, and I didn’t ask. Generally, a fire that far away would never even get close
to Paradise.>>Paradise Police.>>Why are so many people
calling about this smoke? What… what’s going on? Still, at that point, I didn’t
know what they were seeing. (telephone ringing) So all I could do was call
Cal Fire back. What I said was,
“Can you confirm with me that this is north of Concow,
that this is not in Paradise? People say there’s ashes
falling.” “Yes, it’s north of Concow.” That’s the words that I got. “Okay.” So I continued to tell the
people that were calling that we were not under threat. (telephone ringing)>>NARRATOR: By 7:45,
the fire had crossed the canyon and was threatening Paradise
and the surrounding area, home to 40,000 people. Cal Fire issued an evacuation
order for residents on the east side of Paradise,
but not for those from other parts of town.>>NARRATOR: 18 minutes after
fire entered the town, Carol Ladrini received a call
from Cal Fire.>>When I started as a
firefighter in the mid-1980s, we had large fires. You know, it wasn’t uncommon. And we may be at a large fire
for a week or two, maybe even a little bit longer. But then the periods would
subside and we would, we would go back,
we’d regroup, and we’d get ready for the next
round. Now, in the current fire
environment, the season is much longer. The summer is much hotter,
drier, less humidity, and typically,
our winters have been on the lower end of average.>>We measure climate at weather
stations, and when fires burn, we trace their footprint. Those types of analyses
have shown that human-caused climate change
has doubled wildfire since 1984 across
the western United States above what would have burned
without climate change.>>NARRATOR: Researchers say
that in Northern California, summers have warmed
by an average of 2.5 degrees in the last 50 years. At the same time, climate change
has made prolonged drought more common in the area.>>What we’ve observed over the
last several fire seasons is that it doesn’t rain until
late in December or even early January, and
that means that the landscape hasn’t seen a drop of
precipitation in perhaps eight months. It’s that combination
of factors, where you get the high winds,
you get the high temperatures, you have fuels
that are bone-dry, and you combine all of those
factors into a package that is really explosive
from a wildland perspective, where then, if you throw
a match into that package, you’re going to generate
a catastrophe. (radio static hissing)>>All units be advised,
the town of Paradise is under a mandatory evacuation. The town of Paradise is under
a mandatory evacuation. (man breathing heavily)>>I was dispatched to the fire
down on the east canyon edge. So I slid my body camera on and
went behind the house. I can hear a roaring, and I
could see flames coming up from, from the canyon that were
probably 30, 40 feet in height. (Pickering speaking on radio)>>NARRATOR: Fire was now
established on the east side of Paradise. Police went door-to-door to make
sure people had left.>>The fire was swirling around
the houses. It was coming in at all angles, defying any sense of gravity or
any sense of, in my mind, what would be normal for a fire. Too much was happening,
too much was going on, and we were not able
to do more than just a couple of handful
of streets.>>NARRATOR: Sergeant Pickering
made his way to Paradise’s largest building,
Feather River Hospital.>>My husband texts me, and he
says, “Hey, there’s a big fire.” And I said, “Huh.” I said, “I didn’t see anything. Where’s it coming from?” He goes, “Out of Concow.” And I said, “Okay, well, hopefully it doesn’t cross
the canyon, ’cause then I’m gonna have
to evacuate the hospital.” Um… and then we saw
the orange glow through the patients’ rooms. ♪ ♪>>For the moment, yes.>>There was people that were
having to carry an I.V. bag with them, they were holding
their own I.V. bag. And then we had people that were
just coming out of surgery that had to be loaded up.>>Doctors pulled up
with their SUVs and were putting patients in
with doctors.>>Okay, hang a hard right…>>And nurses are driving their
own private vehicles and taking out their car seats and leaving them on the side
of the hospital ground. It wasn’t a normal evacuation
that we’ve been planning and, and rehearsing, it was so fast.>>What was that?>>Anywhere from a few minutes
to 15, 20 minutes, everything around the hospital
was burning and on fire. It went black real quick. It felt like, it felt like
working a night shift. (radio squawking) (Pickering sighs) ♪ ♪>>We were stuck in traffic for
quite a while in the hospital as everything around us
is on fire.>>Well, where’s the fire
department, where’s the hoses? Why isn’t anybody putting these
fires out? You know, it was so confusing.>>I assumed that the fire was
right there, next to me. I didn’t know, at the time, that
the fire had jumped all the way into Paradise. Nobody said anything to us. Nobody said, “Hey, all of
Paradise is on fire.” (people speaking on radio)>>Copy, 0922.>>Multiple structures on fire
here… Start towards Paradise.>>See the fire’s about to jump
the road. (people talking on radio)>>Picture it like
a snow blizzard. There was just thousands upon
thousands of embers blowing through the air. It was really hard
to get your mind around how rapidly it was developing.>>NARRATOR:
In less than an hour, the fire swept across the town
of Paradise, overwhelming the firefighters’
efforts to stop it.>>The homes, the homes are
becoming involved. (people talking on radio)>>NARRATOR: The smoke, swirling
with burning pine needles and pieces of houses,
turned day to night.>>An area would catch on fire, homes would catch on fire
generating heat, which would throw more embers,
that would start another fire. And those winds can push those
embers a long ways. And it just kind of perpetuates
into one big fire at once. There was no, there was no
flaming front.>>NARRATOR: In a typical fire,
the smoke travels straight up, where cooler air puts out most
of the embers. But in this fire, winds high up
of up to 100 miles an hour were blowing
the embers sideways.>>The wind aloft
that lofted the embers was a lot stronger wind
than the wind at the surface. And that’s what allowed it to… (imitates explosion) …throw fireballs
all over our town. I think that’s what
differentiates this fire from the other fires. That they all had a path,
and this one didn’t. It really didn’t. It had paths. It had a lot of paths, um,
and they were all happening at the same time.>>Oh, my God! ♪ ♪>>There was, like, no sirens or
warnings or anything. No one telling anyone for sure
what was happening. So we’re, like,
“Oh, let’s go check it out.” (horn honking) We just get in the car and we
can’t even pull out, ’cause there was cars
all the way down. You couldn’t even get
on the road.>>NARRATOR: Jordan Huff was
trying to leave with her boyfriend along
Paradise’s main road, Skyway.>>Everything was red, everything just seemed
like panic.>>I started freaking out, because the fire’s coming at us
and I didn’t wanna see it, I didn’t wanna feel it. Like, I didn’t wanna be there. I just kinda wanted
to disappear, because I couldn’t believe
this was happening. ♪ ♪>>Holy (bleep)!>>It was suffering,
moving that slow. I didn’t understand why not
everyone was flooring it. Like, we were all about
to burn alive. Like, why isn’t everyone, like,
full speed ahead? Like, why are we stuck? Like, why? How?>>The town of Paradise
and the upper ridge has had a community evacuation
plan since the late ’90s. In the early 2000s, that plan
was updated and included maps with zones in them. Paradise is limited by the
number of routes out of town. Each fire is different,
you know. Fires come from
different directions. So we had to look at varying
scenarios and determine what intersections
would need controlling under a normally
developing fire.>>NARRATOR: The emergency
planners had divided the town into 14 zones. They would be evacuated in turn depending on where the fire
came from.>>We actually had a trial run
in 2008. We evacuated the zones on the
east side of town for a fire coming from Concow. The whole lesson learned from
2008 was, the more you evacuate, the more cars on the road,
the more difficult it is to evacuate the town. So we didn’t have a plan to
evacuate the entire town at once mostly because it wouldn’t work. Our plan became, I think,
probably one of the most elaborate plans
in the state.>>NARRATOR: In a review after
the 2008 fire, a Butte county grand jury
warned that the town’s roads had “serious capacity
limitations” and made a number of
recommendations, including widening
the evacuation routes. The county’s governing board
implemented some of the recommendations,
but there was no funding to widen all of the roads. ♪ ♪>>One of my personal responses
to the grand jury was, if you gave us
$10 or $15 million, maybe $20 million, to build
new roads off the ridge, um, maybe we could develop
a plan that would get people off
the ridge, you know, everyone off the
ridge at one time. Roads cost a lot of money. These roads would be roads that,
on a average day, they’re built for traffic that
doesn’t exist. And then you say we’re going
to build four lanes that aren’t gonna be used except
once in a, in a half-century? Yeah, that, that’s gonna be
a pretty hard ask to make. (people talking on radio)>>…gonna open up both lanes
and get everybody out. (people talking on radio)>>Flames, get people moving,
now!>>NARRATOR: There were now over
350 firefighters in Paradise. But with burning embers causing
new fires all across the town, there was no clear front line
for them to fight. (people talking on radio)>>We conceded… I can tell you, it was 9:23 in
the morning, we conceded that maintaining
the evacuation routes and civilian rescue was
our only objective that day, and there was no orders given
that contradicted that.>>NARRATOR:
Although the entire town was under an evacuation order, thousands of residents
were still at home. (sirens blaring)>>My mom had me at 41. For many years, we were like
best friends. We would rent out Redbox movies
from Safeway, which was right next door,
and hang out. And I could tell her anything.>>NARRATOR: 25-year-old
Christina Taft and her mother, Victoria,
lived in central Paradise.>>I wasn’t thinking it
was that serious at first, and then in the shower,
I started to smell smoke. I was definitely panicked. I thought it could all,
like, burn. And I told that to my mom,
and she just… she didn’t want to listen
to that negativity. We weren’t really, like,
arguing, it was just kind of like
I was saying stuff and then packing up everything
I could into the car. Like, it was completely filled
in the trunk and the back seat, and just with the front seat,
you know, for my mom. It went on for a hour, kind of. She was just not really packing, she didn’t get out of her
pajamas, and then she started calling
other people to find out what was happening. Looking outside, it started
getting, you know, traffic and darker. I, you know, I just didn’t know
what to do. Like, it was either I leave
or stay and risk my own life, and I had a life to live. Like, I told her that, like,
“I have a life to live.” And she was just kind of, like,
talking to people on the phone, and they weren’t telling her,
“Leave.”>>NARRATOR: Christina joined
the thousands of others evacuating the town. Her mom refused
to come with her.>>It was very slow leaving, but
it was all burnt, like, all the way down. People were stopping,
getting people in their cars, and I was stuck,
so I couldn’t go back, even though it wasn’t
very far away. It just was horrible,
because I kept calling my mom, and it just didn’t work.>>NARRATOR: Christina and her
mother had not received an official evacuation order. The county sheriff’s office was
using a new alert system called Code Red. It had an option to send out a
mass alert to every Paradise resident, but
that morning they didn’t use it.>>This was an extraordinarily
chaotic situation. There was difficulty in terms
of structuring the, um, the area that
we wanted to target. We had one person who was
working to try to get that message out. I can assure you from the
standpoint of the sheriff’s office, nobody
was waiting around, uh, uh… to notify people. It wasn’t as though this… any delay was calculated or
intentional.>>NARRATOR: They did send out
alerts using another feature that
informed residents zone by zone, but only those
who had signed up.>>We knew that sign-ups were
not where they needed to be. But we believed that that was
the future, and our big campaign for 2019 was to really increase the
number of people signed up for Code Red.>>NARRATOR: More than half of
residents had not signed up, including Christina
and her mother. And many of those who had still
didn’t get a notification.>>Cell phone towers went down– the networks were so clogged
that we couldn’t get through it. It was an event that literally
outpaced all of our resources almost immediately, literally
outpaced all of the planning that had been done
prior to this. And ultimately,
people have to be responsible for their own safety. The best person to craft an
evacuation plan for you is you. ♪ ♪>>This is me trying to
evacuate. Pentz Road is on fire,
everything is burnt.>>NARRATOR: After evacuating
the hospital, nurse Nichole Jolly
was driving south. She turned off Pentz Road onto
a side street, Pearson Road. Ahead of her, cars were already
on fire and had been abandoned.>>I’m getting down into this
ravine, and I kind of look, going, “Oh, this,
this isn’t good,” because this fire is blowing
so fast.>>The road’s completely
engulfed in flames, and we’re stuck
in the middle of it. That tree could come on me at
any moment. This is ridiculous,
and I’m stuck behind these stupid (bleep).>>And I’m on my, on the phone
to my husband, and I’m screaming for him. I’m, like, “Nick, you got to get
to me, you have to hurry, because I’m not going
to make it.” And he said, “I’m trying,
I’m going to get to you.” And I’m, like, “I’m going to
die, and I’m, I’m so sorry.” And… and my car is starting to
fill up with smoke at that point. And I told my husband,
I’m, like, “The car’s filling up
with smoke, I have to get out of the car.” And he’s, like,
“Get out and run.” And I’m, like, “I can’t get out
and run, you don’t understand, there’s fire everywhere,
and I can’t run through fire.” And he said, “You’re going
to have to.” ♪ ♪>>The town of Paradise,
almost more than any other town that I’ve heard of, had really
thought about the issue of fire and evacuation,
and they had a plan. And the plan was completely
overwhelmed by circumstances. I think those circumstances
were not unprecedented. We have had a number of fires
over the last several years prior to the Camp Fire that had
some of the characteristics, in particular,
the rate of spread and the total ineffectiveness of any kind
of suppression effort.>>NARRATOR: Climate change has
contributed to making fires bigger and more frequent. Ten of the 20 most destructive
fires in California have happened
in the last four years.>>Fires are different today. You need to plan differently. You have communities that are
saying, “We have our evacuation plan.” But if the plan involves driving
down a road like the one in Paradise,
that was essentially blocked by the fire,
that’s not a very good plan. If the road is narrow
and will become gridlocked, not a very good plan.>>So, in about 2015,
we developed this binder. And we carry this binder
in our vehicles. And this binder includes
evacuation plans and traffic plans, um…
evacuation plans for every community, foothill
community in Butte County.>>Why, given that there have
been very fast-moving fires before, was it not part
of the planning that it might be a possibility
to have a fire of this speed and intensity?>>I don’t think we’ve ever seen
that before. So I don’t think that it was
something that was, that was ever envisioned. As far as modeling, we did plan
for a rapidly developing fire. We just did not plan for… we
just did not anticipate a fire that went seven-and-a-half miles
in an hour and a half. I don’t think anybody envisioned
that happening.>>Do you think you should have
envisioned that happening?>>I, I’m not going
to answer that question. ♪ ♪>>We’ve got four trapped
in the basement. Four people trapped
in the basement.>>NARRATOR: An hour and a half
after fire hit Paradise, thousands were trying to leave, but many others were trapped
in their homes. 18 miles from the fire,
Cal Fire’s emergency center was receiving 911 calls.>>The phones rang and rang and
rang, and they didn’t stop.>>It was loud, it was, it was
noisy, it was constant.>>I answered the phone,
and I heard a lady– actually, I heard three ladies.>>They were coughing, choking. She had a hard time
even telling me exactly where they were.>>They were in a room with,
she told me, “No windows,
I, I can’t get out.” And I couldn’t…
I couldn’t leave her.>>It started getting
real staticky. And I had no response. I was talking to myself. And after nine minutes and, and
something, the phone went dead. I just couldn’t help her. And I just had to hit
the next… answer the 911,
and start all over. (people talking in background) ♪ ♪>>Here?>>I gotta go.>>NARRATOR: By midmorning,
firefighters were trying to make it down the road where
Nichole Jolly was stranded. The temperature at the center of
the fire was now around 1,800 degrees.>>I’m running up this hill,
and it’s a pretty steep hill, and I couldn’t see anything. And I’m putting my hand over my
eyes, and the flames are just hitting
the side of me. I just was thinking, “Please let
there be a vehicle or something that I can jump into,” ’cause
I was so hot at that point. And I ended up touching
the back of a fire engine, and I’m, like, “Oh, yay,
a fire engine.” I sat in the center, and we were
stuck, we were stopped. And I’m, like,
“Why aren’t we moving?” And he’s, like, “Well, there’s
cars on fire all around us.” Look, we’re in a fire engine, this is what this thing is built
for, you know. It’s, this thing’s meant to go
through fire. No, those things are not meant
to go through fire.>>I could start hearing
a distress call for air support. And you could hear the urgency
in their voices on the radio. I remember it being pitch-black
outside and zero visibility and knowing that that was
impossible. I answered him back,
inappropriately, uh, using his first name. I said, “John, where are you?”>>NARRATOR: Determined to get
to his colleagues, Joe Kennedy drove a bulldozer
through the flames.>>We’re hearing this noise
coming up behind us. It was really loud. It was this clinking chains. You could hear, it was, like,
thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk.>>I started taking fully
involved vehicles and moving them away
the best I could.>>And he’s flipping them over,
and it’s just a miracle. And he cleared this way for us.>>What happened on Pearson Road
we don’t train for. They don’t teach us how to move
fully involved cars. They teach us how to avoid that. There were several times where
it crossed my mind that this was a very bad idea. But if people were counting on
me to keep going and, uh, not stop.>>NARRATOR: Joe Kennedy managed
to clear the road so Nichole and the firefighters
could get to safety. He continued working
for another 24 hours.>>He kept saving people
on that road. No A/C, no fire blankets,
just glass windows in the middle of this inferno. ♪ ♪>>NARRATOR: The fire had now
burned around 20,000 acres and was visible from space. ♪ ♪>>21-54… (people talking on radio)>>Our air-tac officer
gave a report, where the fire was
and how much was being impacted. He basically said,
“The fire’s progressed all the way through town.” And these reports of civilians
trapped and rescues, and, you know,
we’d already had reports of a lot of fatalities.>>70 Charlie…>>And by noon, we had conceded that the town had basically
burned down. (people talking on radio)>>NARRATOR: It took only
four hours for Paradise to be destroyed. By the end of the day, 50,000
people had managed to escape, scattering to neighboring towns.>>There was literally a point
on the road where it went from hell to,
there was a sky again and there was air to breathe. And it was this type of feeling that changes your whole
entire life. “I just got this chance to be
able to live again.”>>My mom took us back
to the house that my kids were staying at. And I see my husband
just pacing in the driveway, and he’s just pacing and pacing
and pacing. And I’m, like, “Mom, you need to
go, you need to get down there, I see Nick.” And she’s, like, “Nichole,
we’re in a residential area– I can’t, I can’t drive fast.” And I’m, like,
“Then you need to let me out.” And I got out of the car, and I
ran faster than she was driving, and I just grabbed
onto my husband. And I’ll never forget what he
said. He said, “I thought
I almost lost you.” And I’m, like, “I know.” ♪ ♪>>NARRATOR: A week after the
fire started, more than 5,000 firefighters
were tackling the blaze, from the ground and the sky. ♪ ♪>>There was nothing standing, and there were still homes
burning. You know, power lines were down,
cars were burned, they were still burning. It looked like a war zone, it looked like bombs had been
dropped on the town.>>It was heartbreaking to me. I grew up in that town, um, I graduated from high school
in that town. I was the fire chief
in that town and honored to be
the fire chief in that town, and it was heartbreaking to see. ♪ ♪>>NARRATOR: Paradise burned
for over two weeks. Finally, the first winter rains
came and put the fire out. It had burned 153,000 acres,
an area the size of Chicago. ♪ ♪ It was the most destructive fire
California had ever seen. Around 30,000 people
lost their homes. It took many weeks to identify
those who died.>>It was actually Thanksgiving
Day when they confirmed it.>>NARRATOR: Christina Taft had
not heard from her mother since the morning of the fire.>>She was found on the property
in the living room. She was still inside,
she wasn’t able to get out. And probably, like,
it was right by the window, so that was really horrible
imagining that she didn’t probably know
what to do or something. I don’t think
she really realized it was as bad as it was. I blamed myself,
I blamed authority, I blamed the other people, I blamed a lot of things,
and, um… I’m not really angry at her. People, I think they expect if
there’s an emergency, they’ll get notified. I think if we did have a order, it would have made a difference
to my mom. ♪ ♪>>NARRATOR: 85 people perished
in the Camp Fire. The majority were over
65 years old. Some were trapped in their cars, others were still
in their homes.>>It breaks my heart that they
got a false sense of security. It breaks my heart that
I and anybody else that was answering the phone
that day was not able to give them more
information, better information,
faster information. It kind of snowballs on you. ♪ ♪>>Could you have got evacuation
orders out to communities that were likely to be hit
before they were hit?>>I mean, we can always Monday,
you know, Monday quarterback it. I know what you’re saying, but,
no, I mean, maybe, maybe five minutes earlier. But the issue wasn’t how fast
we notified the public, it was how fast we could get
them off the hill. The transportation system would
only hold so many vehicles, and we were trying to put more
vehicles on the road than it could hold. ♪ ♪>>I have no doubt in my mind
that if we, as public safety agencies,
had not done what we did, the conditions would have been
much worse and there would have been more
loss of life. It was bad. But this fire affected tens of
thousands of people in a matter of a few hours. The plan was implemented. I, I’m very confident in saying
it was, it was successful. Was it flawless? Absolutely not. ♪ ♪>>We never gave up hope. You know, we kept looking,
and he can’t read or write, so we thought maybe he couldn’t
get in contact with us.>>NARRATOR: Jordan Huff was
waiting for news about her grandfather TK,
who had been up in Concow.>>It was two weeks later,
my mom called me, and she was all like,
“Jordan…” I knew what the phone call was, because, like, my mom doesn’t
call to talk. She told me they found Pop’s
body, and I was like, “Yeah?” And then like, “Yeah, they found
the body in the home.” And I was like, “Oh,”
and, you know, I just cried. I didn’t know what to say,
and she asked me if I’m okay, and I just hung up the phone,
because you’re not okay. We went out there on December 4,
me and my dad only. Literally, everything is gone
except, you know, you go out to the back fence,
and you see a wheelchair. You see his watering hose burnt
to a crisp all the way, dragged all the way right
next to the wheelchair and a bucket of water. Your mind, like,
wants to make a image. But you don’t really want
to make an image, but it does it anyways. And… and man, is it crazy to
have a image like that in your head. He was insanely tough and smart,
and he was a gentle giant. ♪ ♪>>Just going around the
community, and you see someone that you
haven’t seen for a while. “Where were you?
What happened to you? What happened to your family?” It’s our local 9/11. This is a day that we will
always remember. November 8 will always be
a date that’ll just… seared in the collective
consciousness of our community.>>NARRATOR: Six months after
the fire, the Butte County District
Attorney launched an investigation into whether to
bring criminal charges against PG&E, the company whose
power line had started the fire.>>Is what PG&E did– or did not
do– grossly negligent? Something that is beyond,
well beyond ordinary negligence? One of the charges
that we’re looking at under California Penal Code
Section 452 is reckless arson. “To prove the defendant
is guilty of this crime, the people must prove beyond a
reasonable doubt that, one, the defendant burned or
caused to be burned property, uh, or forest land”–
pretty simple. We’ve got that. That the fired burned
an inhabited structure or the fire caused great bodily
injury to another person. Okay, we’ve got structures–
nearly 14,000– 85 people. Got that element. The element that is the-the last
element, it says, “And the defendant did so
recklessly.”>>NARRATOR: PG&E has a long
history of safety violations and a criminal conviction for
a gas explosion in 2010. Its equipment has been linked to
many destructive fires in California in recent years.>>This is a company that,
it was fined hundreds of times and faced more than two, almost
$3 billion worth of fines. You know, if PG&E was an
individual and not a corporation, I think
by now they would be in prison. There’s just been repeat
offenders, they’ve been on probation,
they’ve violated the probation. The problem is you can’t take
a corporation and put it into prison.>>NARRATOR: In the months after
the fire, reporters at “The Wall Street
Journal” discovered that PG&E had been warned its
transmission towers were aging and that components might fail.>>In 2010, they had an outside
contractor come in and they looked at this
and said, “The average age of your towers
is 68 years old, but the mean life expectancy
is only 65.” So, you know, in a sense PG&E
was sort of playing with fire over the years. They were basically saying, “Look, we will let these
transmission lines age in place, and if there’s a problem
with one of them, we’ll go out and fix it.”>>Without climate change,
the consequences of failure of a transmission line,
it’s relatively modest. It falls down, perhaps, or…
and it causes a fire, and the fire department comes
and puts it out. So, the system has been
maintained, you know, with some preventive maintenance
but also with a philosophy that it can be run
until it breaks. The thing is that the costs
have changed. The risks have changed.>>NARRATOR: PG&E declined to be
interviewed by “Frontline,” but said in a statement
that the company “disagrees with any suggestion
that it knew of any specific maintenance
conditions that caused the Camp Fire and
nonetheless deferred work that would have addressed those
conditions.” It added, “Since 2010,
PG&E has spent hundreds of millions on line
preventative work.”>>PG&E is taking this
extraordinary step of saying, “Look, we can’t handle this
liability anymore. So that during the days,
red flag days, when there’s low humidity
and high wind, we’re just going to shut off
the power.” And it’s sort of a stunning
thing to think about, but there increasingly,
um, are days, and-and multiple days
in Northern California, where communities suddenly
don’t have power anymore.>>NARRATOR: PG&E has now filed
for bankruptcy protection because of liabilities arising
from wildfires. It estimates that it could face
at least $10.5 billion in damages from the Camp Fire
alone.>>I think this is one of the
first real climate adaptation problems that
at least America has confronted. And this is not
a static problem. We have a problem that’s going
to grow worse inevitably over the next several decades.>>NARRATOR: Some scientists
believe that fires in California could increase in size
dramatically by the middle of the century if
temperatures continue to rise.>>Everything was perfect that
day for a massive, destructive incident to do what
it did. And it’s in place everywhere. Everywhere in California,
Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Oregon. And it’s like what’s… You don’t even want to think
about it, like, “What’s next? Can it be worse than that?” And the answer is yes. ♪ ♪>>Go to pbs.org/frontline
for more on PG&E.>>Is what PG&E did– or did not
do– grossly negligent?>>And more about the emergency
alert system in Paradise.>>People I think they expect
if there’s an emergency they’ll get notified. I think if we did have an order it would have made a difference
to my mom.>>Connect to the “Frontline”
community on Facebook and Twitter, and watch anytime on the PBS
Video App or pbs.org/frontline. ♪ ♪>>For more on this and other
“Frontline” programs, visit our website at
pbs.org/frontline. ♪ ♪ To order “Frontline’s”
“Fire in Paradise” on DVD, visit ShopPBS
or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS. This program is also available
on Amazon Prime Video. ♪ ♪