David Herrmann and Dayna Silveira lived in a house in Paradise that overlooked a forested valley.
Herrmann, a former Marine, had been renovating the house over the last four years. It had big glass windows and a deck where the couple drank coffee in the morning and ate dinner at night.
It was their home in Paradise.
On the morning of Nov. 8, Silveira and Herrmann went to work, she as a health insurance agent in nearby Chico and he as a UPS driver. Their RV sat in the driveway, packed for a long-planned vacation. Silveira had loaded up the RV’s fridge. All they had to do was back out of the driveway after work and go. They left their pug, Ollie, alone in the house.
Then the Camp Fire roared through. The couple tried to get back in to save their pug and the RV, but law enforcement turned them back. A neighbor managed to save the pug, but everything else burned. They knew it, but until now, they hadn’t been back to see the ruins of their home.
Two weeks after the fire, we drive back with them. As we head into Paradise, down the main street, some of the older shops have been reduced to piles of blackened, twisted metal and rubble. Others, miraculously, stand largely unscathed.
The shelves of a burned convenience store still hold bottles, but they looked aged, the shards of glass broken, opaque. A nearby gas station has burned to the ground, but some of the vehicles in the car dealership next door remain unblemished.
As we pass through the wreckage, Siveira and Herrmann give a shocked, running commentary on the familiar landmarks that have largely vanished: the small vineyard, a neighbor's newly finished garage.
And then Silveira points and says: “Ours isn’t there.”
“That one, on the left, that’s me ... was me,” Herrmann adds. “It’s a lot more final when you look at it. That’s the front windows, master bedroom, living room … Really the only thing that survived is the rain gutter.”
Everything is charred: the Yamaha ATV, the refrigerator, a bathtub, blackened silverware in the kitchen. Herrmann points to a fire extinguisher and laughs wryly.
“Your bed frame’s still here!” he shouts to Silveira, who tells him to take a picture for the insurance adjuster. A self-described type-A personality, Silveira has prepared meticulous lists for the insurance company of possessions in the house: Samsonite luggage, and Apple iPad, a Sonicare electric toothbrush.
It’s bizarre what didn’t burn.
“The dishes that I gave him such a hard time about, that I never wanted to see again, made it," Silveira says, spotting a still intact bowl that Herrmann bought from Walmart. They take a moment to laugh at the absurdity of it.
“Look at all that,” Silveira sighs, her words trailing off. Glass is scattered everywhere, windows blown out by the inferno. Nails, once firmly attached to wood, lie on the ground. Melted metal looks like seeping paint on the ground.
Silveira finds her junior high photos in a twisted tin box. This is the thing that gets her.
“That was my hope, that my junior high pictures would make it, " she says. "There they are, just complete ash."
Close to tears, she continues: “Oh my gosh, this is unreal. Unreal. Everything we worked for."
The couple points to their neighbor’s untouched house next door. Silveira says she feels bad for them, because she knows they feel bad. It drives home how indiscriminate the fire was, no matter how well residents may have been.
“See, my whole yard is rock," Herrmann says. "I was prepared for a low grass fire. This tree fire? (We) didn’t stand a chance,” he says.
Herrmann and Silveira have insurance, so they’ll get a chance to rebuild.