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You know how sometimes an opening movie scene will abruptly show some graphic, what-the-hell moment with zero context, such as a dazed, sunburned person floating on a hunk of ship-wreckage in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by blood-thirsty sharks?
And then the real story follows, after the words: 3 weeks earlier …
That’s what keeps coming to mind as I think about how much has happened here in the north state since July 23. Everything before July 23 will be forever regarded as BEFORE THE CARR FIRE, and everything on the other side of that flaming, awful line is AFTER THE CARR FIRE.
Yes, I believe we will rebuild after the Carr Fire. Yes, I believe our communities will be more united because of the Carr Fire. Yes, I believe we will grow stronger from the Carr Fire. But I also believe that the horrific cruelty of the Carr Fire will brand our collective psyche with a deep, searing scar that will haunt us for generations after you and I are long gone.
When I first started writing this piece at 7 p.m. Tuesday night, I felt numb to the latest Carr Fire updates: 214,527 acres; 69-percent contained. The Carr Fire has destroyed 1,077 homes, 22 commercial buildings and 500 other structures. The Carr Fire has damaged 191 homes, 26 commercial buildings and 65 other structures.
Because of the Carr Fire, eight people are dead. Because of the Carr Fire, scores of others are injured, whether when responding, fighting or fleeing the fire.
All those numbers are written in pencil. Keep your eraser handy, because by the time you read this, the Carr Fire will be bigger. The Hirz Fire will be bigger. The Hat Fire will be bigger. The only thing we will know for certain about today is that the fires will be bigger than they were yesterday.
I personally know more than three dozen people who’ve lost their homes to the Carr Fire, some of whom are part of our ANC family of contributors. Two – Doug Craig and Jim Dowling – were courageous enough to share their Carr Fire insights here with us, even before they’d had a chance to heal.
… 3 weeks earlier
It was after midnight on July 26 when I opened an email from Steve DuBois. He was excited to share some pictures he’d taken following his Wednesday-evening drive out toward Whiskeytown Lake. He’d captured some photos of the 6,000+ acre baby Carr Fire. Wild fires are part of our north-state culture. We’re so used to them. Yawn.
Steve is the kind of enthusiastic guy who often sends unsolicited photos and stories based upon something he finds interesting. And when he does, he takes photos. Lots of photos. So many choices.
I felt conflicted. Appreciative, but distracted. I was slammed, getting everything ready to introduce our soft paywall in a few hours. We wanted everything to be just right.
I replied to Steve’s email. Subject line: So thoughtful. I said thanks, and actually, Joe and I had discussed it, and even though this small Carr Fire story with photos he’d sent was unexpected, actually, perhaps Steve’s timing would be perfect after all, since my column would be behind a paywall for the very first time. This way, it would give readers two stories from which to chose, one behind the paywall, the other – the puny Carr Fire story – would not be behind the paywall. (No segue, but you do know that only about 10 percent of our content is behind a paywall; the rest is forever free. Right?)
Meanwhile, Joe in the Czech Republic, and I here in California, were emailing and messaging each other and frantically getting things ready to push the “on” button to engage aNewsCafe.com’s partial paywall, something I’d written about in a heads up on July 23.
Of course, how I could I have known when I published that column on July 23 that within three days the relatively insignificant Carr Fire would explode into the monstrous Carr Fire, terrorizing us with death, fear and destruction; eventually sending more than 40,000 of us running for our lives.
Timing. Didn’t see that coming.
As Joe worked on the technical stuff, I got Steve’s post ready and put the final touches on a column I’d worked on all week about my housing solution for Redding’s homeless. It was long (surprise!). I used cuss words. I was about as blunt as I’d ever been about this tired old topic. I held leaders’ feet to the fire. I kind of liked that column, if I do say so myself. I knew I’d get flack for it. I was prepared.
I fell into bed about 4:30 a.m; 3.5 hours after we started the paywall; 30 minutes after we posted my column. A few hours later, with the excitement that I can only compare to Christmas morning, I jumped out of bed to see how things were doing with ANC and our new paywall. I did as I always do when I start my computer each morning; open three tabs in quick succession: ANC, then Gmail, then Facebook.
Immediately, I saw a flood of frantic FB posts about the Carr Fire and how it had erupted in size over night, and had raced east down Highway 299 and seemed hellbent on destroying French Gulch, Shasta and areas closer to Redding, like Rock Creek Road and Victoria Drive.
Hey! Wait a minute! Wild fires are supposed to stay in the wild, far away from towns, subdivisions and cities.
I knew people who lived in all those areas. But the FB post that convinced me for the first time that the Carr Fire was no ordinary wild fire was a video by Chad Fowler, who, with his wife, three children and their animals — including baby goats — all crammed into their vehicle — fled their home under evacuation orders. At the intersection of Victoria Drive and Highway 99 Fowler paused to videotape the flames that appeared across Highway 299. I couldn’t believe it.
His words on the videotape: “It doesn’t look good.”
I yelled two words aloud — inside the house from which I’d be evacuated before the night’s end, in the city in which Chad Fowler’s home would burn to the ground, and where Steve DuBois would be severely injured during a fall from a deck in the dark while helping a friend evacuate.
Suddenly, nothing else mattered. Not the paywall, not the stupid opinion column I’d written about the homeless-housing issue … nothing else. At ANC we immediately started posting fire updates, and in no time the site was overwhelmed with traffic. Suddenly, ANC went haywire. It crashed, then came alive. Crashed, then came alive. Over and over. We kept posting new updates. By nightfall I’d written and published a post of Carr Fire vignettes: fire stories, time-lapsed Carr Fire photos, spectacular fire photos and the Fowler’s evacuation story.
Despite all that, even though this freaky fire was obviously abnormally aggressive, I still had faith that our trusty firefighters would slap down this flaming sucker and we’d all resume life as normal by morning.
But it wasn’t normal. It still isn’t. Not by a long shot. And I don’t have to tell you what’s happened between then and now. Since July 26, ANC has been pretty much Carr Fire, 24/7, as I suspect it’s been for many of you.
That’s why, on the morning of July 26 we pulled the plug on my homeless-solution column (read by 152 of you) and put it on ice. Right now, I cannot imagine ever publishing it. But maybe that’s the Carr Fire talking.
What you might not have known is that we also disabled our paywall before it was even 1 day old. We couldn’t justify keeping it up during such a dire time of tragedy and angst, when tens of thousands of people were simultaneously panicked for fire updates. And although we’ll never put public safety stories behind a paywall, I didn’t want any confusion about whether we would or wouldn’t charge readers for public-safety information. (No. Not ever.)
Meanwhile, though, the site kept having difficulties. Believe me when I assure you that if there were a Frustration Contest, our ANC team would have won, hands down. We heard from many of you who alerted us every time you got an error message. We love that we can count on you to keep us abreast of what’s happening. It’s nice to know you care enough to let us know.
I won’t bore you with all the technical details (most of which I don’t grasp anyway), but in addition to some glitches related to the strain of extraordinarily high traffic, unbeknownst to us, there was one lurking, misbehaving plugin, even though technically, it was disabled.
The damn paywall plugin.
Oh, the wicked irony of it all! Without the paywall, ANC would soon fail. With the plugin, the site would crash and burn.
Over the next few weeks, two continents apart, our fabulous tech guys Joe Domke and Jim Gore worked many, many hours. Finally, with some even more advanced help, Joe was able to solve the plug-in problem once and for all.
We’ve reinstalled the plug-in. The soft paywall is up and working fine. (Everyone please pause now and knock on wood.) Best of all, we’re gaining new paid subscribers every day. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, words cannot fully express the depths of my gratitude. I appreciate you so much!
Yes, we have had some issues with those of you who subscribed early, voluntarily (thank you, bless you!) after my Valentine’s Day column. The basic issue is that we created a subscription account for you with a randomly generated password and you just need to reset your password to login. You early subscribers have already paid, so you should have full access to the site. You will have full access to the site. If you are a paid subscriber who’s still having access problems, PLEASE don’t give up! Please let Joe know at email@example.com. He will make things right so you don’t miss a single story.
I know, in the scheme of things, this site is a small thing. But our team takes what we do very seriously, and the fact that you care enough to pay to read our premium content tells us that you think this community website has value.
And if I still have the occasional moment when I wonder whether what we do at ANC matters, I’m going to re-read a note that a woman delivered to my door Monday morning, while I was still in my robe. At first I didn’t recognize her, because she was wearing a mask. Not only is she a loyal reader, but she’s a pillar of this community. That morning, she’d navigated my concrete stairs (a feat for many people) with the aid of her cane. She handed me this note, apparently, something she’d planned to leave on my door had I not answered.
Doni, my house was totally destroyed and somehow I lost the NewsCafe.com access. I tried at least a million times to set a new password & get on to no avail. Can you see that I am reconnected?
She was one of aNewsCafe’s early subscribers, and a long-time reader. I promised her that Joe would make everything right, and he has. She’s back to reading aNewsCafe.com, catching up on all stories she’d missed, including one by Mike Mojoarro, in which she could see her own home engulfed in flames next door to Mojarro’s house in the video.
Let me get this straight. She fled from her home. Her house burned down. She lost everything. She’s living in a rental. But she missed aNewsCafe.com enough that she wrote me a note, found my house, walked up the steps with a cane, rang the doorbell and asked me to help her get reconnected so she wouldn’t miss another day of stories.
I made my promise. We said goodbye. I shut the door. I bawled like a baby.
And guess what? Unlike the majority of my writing, this column is not currently behind a paywall, for two reasons.
First, it’s so I can reach you early subscribers who may still be having difficulty getting beyond the paywall, so we can get the message to you to contact us and we’ll help you get connected again.
Second, we’ve decided that we will give free one-year memberships to anyone who’s lost their home in the Carr Fire. If that’s you, and you want to be a ANC subscriber, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and your former address and we’ll make it happen. And if you’re like the loyal subscriber who’s already paid, who lost her home and left me a note, her next year’s subscription is free.
Thanks to that woman, and many more of you who’ve become paid subscribers, we are optimistic about ANC’s future. For the first time in a long time, we see a light at the end of the tunnel.
And thank God, it’s not a fire.Click here for more fire stories.