‘Fire in Paradise’: how one Chico State professor helped tell our story

Melissa Joseph and Alex Coba

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Trigger Warning: The following article references trauma and loss of life.

In an attempt to process the devastating circumstances of the Camp Fire, a handful of programs have recently been released to commemorate the looming anniversary of the destruction that swept through Paradise.

PBS Frontline produced “Fire in Paradise,” a documentary uncovering the harrowing events of Nov. 8, 2018 and explored the factors that made it California’s deadliest wildfire. To fully immerse themselves into the lives of Camp Fire victims, journalists Zoe Todd, Sydney Trattner and Jane Mcmullen enlisted the help of local journalist Mandy Feder-Sawyer.

Feder-Sawyer is a part-time faculty member at Chico State and survivor of the Camp Fire.

“I thought it was important to be part of the documentary,” Feder-Sawyer said. “It was an honor to be able to add a voice of empathy to it.”

She was asked by the BBC and PBS to interview an extensive list of survivors and individuals that played a key role in the Camp Fire and to seek anyone who experienced the fire on extreme levels.

Some survivors in particular that Feder-Sawyer interviewed had a profound impact on her as she had to balance her personal experiences with her responsibilities as a professional journalist.

“I had some connections (with Jordan Huff), but I feel like it’s okay that it crosses that line into humanity,” Feder-Sawyer said.

Feder-Sawyer’s empathy toward the plights of Camp Fire survivors was evident throughout the documentary as interviewees shared with her the intimate and tragic details of their stories.

Since finishing her work with PBS, Feder-Sawyer, among many other survivors, has yet to find solace in the devastating aftermath of the fire. Many lives were lost in the Camp Fire, but a year in its wake it is still wreaking havoc on the lives of those who survived the disaster itself.

“I know a number of people who have taken their lives since the fire and the number of people who have died from the stress,” Feder-Sawyer said.

To watch “Fire in Paradise,” the full documentary can be found on PBS Frontline’s website.

Melissa Joseph can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @melisstweetz.

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