Netflix’s ‘Fire in Paradise’: an intimate look at tragedy


Firefighters rummaging through debris in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California. Photo by Zackary Canepari (Courtesy of Netflix)

The Netflix documentary “Fire in Paradise” recounts the events of the Camp Fire through first-hand accounts and video.

Directed by Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper, “Fire in Paradise” documents the events of Nov. 8, 2018; the day the Camp Fire broke out, resulting in the destruction of Paradise and 85 deaths. The documentary features profiles from survivors and dispatchers telling their personal accounts during the Camp Fire.

“Fire in Paradise” is relatively short as far as documentaries go, with a runtime of 40 minutes.

Immediately, I felt that there was something missing from this documentary. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was until about halfway through the documentary.

Aside from the interview clips and some B-roll footage, almost all of the footage in the documentary was from people from Paradise experiencing the fire first-hand and recording it on their phones.

Not to say that using first-hand video from the disaster is a bad thing. In fact, I argue it brings a sense of harsh realism to those who did not experience the fire. However, to rely so heavily on first-hand videos felt like a cop-out.

It’s clear that the production team behind the documentary is not from the Butte County area, as this documentary failed to capture the severity —both long-term and short-term— of the Camp Fire’s effect.

Had it not been for the interviews of the survivors and dispatchers, I don’t think “Fire in Paradise” would have the substance to make an adequate documentary.

With that said, I still enjoyed this documentary.

Hearing the harrowing escape stories of parents and teachers revived some of my own emotions that I had repressed up until this point.

One of the most noteworthy interviews from “Fire in Paradise” is that of Beth Bowersox, a 911 Cal Fire Dispatcher.

She recounts the day of the fire and how the day’s events took a mental and emotional toll on her. Her account is heart-wrenching but serves as a reminder of how resilient dispatchers and first responders are.

I recommend watching this documentary. However, I must warn that it is not for everyone, especially the faint of heart. There is pervasive vulgar language, and there is a short clip of man finding the remains of his friends in a car. So, watch at your own risk.

“Fire in Paradise” is currently streaming on Netflix and is available to those with a subscription.

Angel Ortega can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AngelOrtegaNews.