It’s been six weeks to the day since the Camp Fire ignited and roared through the Butte County community of Paradise, killing 86 people and destroying nearly 14,000 single residences on its way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in modern California history.
On Thursday night, "After Paradise" — the show North State Public Radio launched to cover the fallout of the Camp Fire — will switch from daily to weekly broadcasts. But there's more than enough to keep talking about.
Public radio host Tess Vigeland was between jobs when she spotted a Facebook post from NSPR’s general manager, Phil Wilke, saying, “Look, we have a teeny tiny staff. It’s been the most horrendous, tough couple weeks of our careers and we need help!”
Vigeland then spent three weeks helping to launch "After Paradise" as a volunteer host, producer, reporter and editor. She saw the story evolve over that short time.
"This is going to be a very long recovery process for the entire community, here in Chico and Paradise and beyond, and we’re here for that," she said.
"After Paradise" features interviews with government officials, insurance experts, psychotherapists and others living through the aftermath of one of the worst disasters in California history. At a time when most national reporters have decamped to cover new headlines, Butte County locals still need a place to talk about what's going on for them.
That said, you don’t need to live near Chico to hear more about the awful day the fire struck, from folks like the Rev. Ron Zimmer of East Avenue Church in Chico, who provided shelter for many fleeing in the early days.
"After Paradise" also serves up forward-looking conversations with people like Mayor Jody Jones.
"We have an opportunity to do things better. To look at some of our streets so that we have better evacuation routes. To look at our building so we have more fireproof structures in town. Those sorts of things," Jones said on a recent show.
Vigeland added, "We are at the crossroads of human suffering and human resilience, and it is a fascinating place at which to stand and watch how people get through something like this."
Wilke was general manager at NSPR for less than three months before the Camp Fire broke out Nov. 8. He wrote in the public media industry publication Current, "I really hate to say this, but the experience of covering the Camp Fire has prepared us to respond to the next emergency. We know how to deploy reporters, board ops, volunteers and interns. We have a playbook — though it’s one you don’t want to use because it means your listeners and your community are in trouble."
Vigeland headed home to Portland. She'll be helping out remotely, but she's leaving the show in the capable hands of the station's two-person newsroom, consisting of Marc Albert and Sarah Bohannon.
New volunteers are welcome to join the effort.