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Paradise Burning

Paradise Looks Like Hell (reported in July)

My beautiful hometown of Paradise, California, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, lush with pines and shaded woods ribboned by creeks, is on fire.

Ten thousand people, one-third of the population, have been evacuated. Fifty homes have burned down. Smoke hangs heavy in the air, turning the sun a ghoulish orange and choking those who’ve not yet been evicted.

It’s a small town, founded during the Gold Rush. The largest gold nugget ever discovered, a 56-pounder, was unearthed on the ridge. Paradise celebrates Gold Nugget Days every year, and in 1975, I reigned as the Gold Nugget Queen. There’s one high school, one struggling movie theater, no mall. The town had just erected their first stoplight when I moved to L.A. 30 years ago. A lot of people retire in Paradise, because it’s quiet, peaceful, remote. Deer roam through your back yard.

When my husband and I were teenagers, we used to hike on a secluded trail to a secret, magnificent 30-foot waterfall that had pounded a bowl-shaped swimming pool into the granite where we’d go skinny-dipping. It was so magical that I wrote the place into one of my books. I wonder if that spot is burning now.

Nearby is Table Mountain, a perfectly sheared-off plateau where we used to fly kites and peer into the mysterious caves of green serpentine and black obsidian that the Maidu tribe used for arrowheads. I wrote those caves into a book, too. I wonder if the wildflower-studded grasslands surrounding them are scorched.

Winding down the edge of the canyon is a narrow and treacherous road called Honeyrun. My dad used to show me the shadowy corners where Black Bart himself might have waited to jump out in front of the stagecoaches he robbed. Honeyrun has a place in one of my books as well.

The trees will grow back, I know. And for now my family is safe. I’ve invited my mom to drive down and stay with me till the fire subsides--she can breathe fresh L.A. smog instead of eye-smarting smoke! Meanwhile, I’m hoping the wind dies down, the flames let up, and maybe Paradise won’t be lost.

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