A Raging Inferno
Escaping a fire is one of the most horrific experiences I’ve ever endured. Way back in 2013, I was awoken in the night by my partner at the time to find black smoke oozing through the windows and slowly creeping across the ceiling. The momentary silence was broken by the steady and persistent rumble of something stirring outside, while the occasional crackle and pop sent shivers down my spine.
Throwing open the windows, the car-wash opposite us on the one-lane road we were living on was completely ablaze and the wind was blowing the flames toward our block of flats. Snatching up our 2 year old, we threw on some clothes and grabbed his buggy, heading out the back door where we watched in horror as the flames licked up the front of our building before fire fighters arrived – and four fire engines – to put out the fire. Months on, we suffered the occasion anxious episode and the experience of seeing those flames and thick, black clouds of smoke is something that’ll stay with me for a long, long time.
Fire In Paradise is a terrifying and bone-chilling documentary that takes these feelings and amplifies them, showcasing the horrific tragedy that befell the quiet community of Paradise in Northern California. With 85 fatalities, over 18,000 buildings destroyed and a 240 mile reach, 2018’s natural disasters were dwarfed by Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire seen in California for over 100 years. Beginning at the start of the day and progressing through the nightmarish minutes and hours as the wildfire spread, Fire In Paradise chronicles the journey several brave men and women took in evacuating and surviving this natural disaster.
An ominous broadcast opens up the film before the a bass guitar chimes in the background, steadily increasing in tempo as the minutes tick by and the 911 calls become more frequent and urgent. All of this builds to the main crescendo of the documentary, featuring truly nightmarish and apocalyptic mobile phone footage of the orange sky and angry flames. Following several different people, including a teacher trying to control a bus full of kids and a Mother looking after her sick son, all of these tales help paint a portrait of what life was life trying to survive this disaster.
The one thing people don’t tell you about fire is how unnerving the sound of it is. From the dull roar of the fire itself to the sporadic pops and bursts as random items are chewed up as fuel, fire is such an unpredictable monster and it’s hard to convey that across in the sound design. Here, Fire In Paradise deserves a lot of props, making things as believable and realistic as possible. As we’re told about propane tanks exploding, the background mirrors that with well-placed bangs, while the closing scenes see the dull roar of the fire fade to black. It’s a simple inclusion but one that ultimately works in the film’s favour.
Accompanying the real-life tragedy and drama surrounding these character stories is a look at the very real problem of climate change. Whether you choose to believe it’s man-made or not, there’s no denying that natural weather phenomena on our beautiful planet is progressively getting worse over time. Fire In Paradise is yet another example of this and seeing the devastation left in the wake of this fire, as the camera pans across numerous charred, empty lots, is a humbling reminder that Mother Nature will not be tamed. Fire In Paradise is a must-watch documentary though and well worth the 40 minute run-time it takes to watch through this one.