Charlotte Niel Photography
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Paradise Lost

What would you do if you woke up one day, had nowhere to go and most of what you possessed went up in flames?

The ravages of California’s Camp Fire comprised more of a regional cremation than a fire. The intense inferno took the lives of at least 86 persons, created a toxic soup of polluted air well beyond it boundaries, displaced over 52,000 persons and transformed the town of Paradise into a silent ghost town, into its own hell.

After watching the extent of the destruction, I asked myself how does a community respond to and survive such a loss? Many appear resilient, but for how long? How will the spirit survive? What is the connection between this catastrophic event and global warming?  How will the planet survive? 

Trying to find answers to these questions led me to Chico, CA to those that survived the Camp Fire, to those who came to their aid and to Paradise.

The Tent City evacuees were full of gratitude for making it out alive, thankful for those who helped, and very concerned as to what would/should happen next. Their deep sense of loss was primarily for community and loved ones; those who died and for those who would become the latest casualties of the new California fire diaspora seeking permanent shelter, employment and answers elsewhere.

What I experienced in Paradise, whose name conjures up the image of an idyllic world, was devastating. It felt apocalyptic.  For many residents, Paradise embodied their California dream, the good life.  It appears that the era of climate change has made the good life more difficult to hold onto and for many has turned their dream into a nightmare.  However, in spite of all the destruction, the resiliency of those impacted by the fire was uplifting and humbling. 

Yet how many times does the human spirit need to be tested before we take action?  What is challenging for me is that some find it difficult to draw a correlation between global warming and this type of disaster.  My hope is that these photographs will contribute to a heightened awareness that the degree of destruction is much worse and for more frequent than in the past and to remind our politicians of their moral obligation to put their people’s and a dying planet’s welfare over money and self-interest.  As a California native and resident of the world, it becomes incomprehensible to me how we cannot acknowledge our share in the demise of nature.  I will remain frustrated and disappointed if these images and events will not move us to find a new way to live on this planet and will only be a premonition of things to come. 

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