Paradise is reduced to ash, but memories survive the flames
By MARTHA MENDOZA
Saturday, November 17
PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — There’s a sweet legend about this town: On a blazing summer day in the 1850s, a lumber mill crew with a wagon and ox took a break under a grove of tall evergreens. The air was cool, the pine needles fragrant.
“Boys,” said the team boss, “this is paradise.”
Thus, more than 170 years ago, Paradise was born. From the start, it was enriched with gold mined from nearby hills and lumber harvested from the forests. Over generations, thousands lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradise’s place in American history.
In a matter of hours last week, it all disappeared.
Nearly 10,000 homes. Hundreds of shops and other buildings. The Safeway supermarket. The hardware store. The Dolly-O-Donuts & Gifts, where locals started their day with a blueberry fritter and a quick bit of gossip.
This California town of 27,000 literally went up in smoke in the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century. The death toll is in the dozens, and many more are missing. And memories are all that’s left for many of the survivors.
Driving past the smoldering ruins of downtown, Patrick Knuthson, a 49-year-old, fourth-generation local, struggled to make sense of what he was seeing. He pointed out places that once were, and were no more: a saloon-style pub, his favorite Mexican restaurant, a classic California motel, the pawn shop, a real estate office, a liquor store, the thrift center and auto repair shop, the remodeled Jack in the Box burger outlet, entire trailer parks.
At the ruined Gold Nugget Museum, the ground was crunchy and hot, a few birds chirped nearby, and a half dozen soot-covered deer stood eerily still under a blackened tree.
Paradise was a town where families put down roots, and visitors opted to stay. Children could bike to the park, go fishing in the town pond, shoot bows and arrows at the nearby archery range. As they got older, they would kayak in the canyons or hike in the forests after school.
“We could tell the kids to go outside and play, and be back when the street lights come on,” said Kaitlin Norton, whose uncle is still missing. She does not know if her home still stands.
Like all places, Paradise had problems. There were issues with addiction and poverty, but residents felt safe. And while prices were rising, it was still affordable for many in a state where housing costs have soared.
“You would never miss a meal here,” said Terry Prill, 63, who often sought lunch and dinner at community churches. “The people are good people. They don’t look down at you.”
The pace was relaxed. Neighbors waved to each other in the morning, shouting hello as they headed off to work on tree-lined, winding streets and cul-de-sacs. Families kept tidy gardens and planted vegetables, trading their bounty up and down the block.
Louise Branch, 93, says Paradise was a lovely place to retire.
“It’s a slow town, really. People have yards and dogs,” she said. “I especially liked it in the fall when the trees are full of color.”
Parks burst with bright-orange California poppies and wildflowers in the spring and soften with light snow in the winter. At 2,500 feet (762 meters), on a ridge that rises above deep canyons carved by the Feather River and Butte Creek, Paradise offers cool respite from hot, dry weather in the valleys below.
Spanning the creek was the Honey Run Covered Bridge, built in 1886. It was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and was the only covered bridge in America with three unequal sections. It, too, is gone.
Glenn Harrington raised two sons in Paradise. He found it so picturesque he started the Visions of Paradise page on Facebook; image after image chronicles the town’s history and spirit, its seasonal colors and its many festivals.
Each spring, there were Gold Nugget Days, marking the discovery of a 54-pound lump in 1859. The Donkey Derby in nearby Old Magalia would get silly, as locals re-created how miners heaved the famous chunk of gold into town. The highlight was a parade of homemade floats.
“My daughter’s going out for the Gold Nugget Queen this year,” said Krystin Harvey, whose mobile home burned down. “Well, it’s been going for 100 years, but we don’t know — there’s no town now.”
In the fall, they would celebrate Johnny Appleseed days, gathering at the recreation center for a crafts fair and games. This is when residents would feast on more than 1,000 pies baked with fruit from Noble Orchards, a nearly century-old farm on Paradise Ridge where trees were heavy with cherries, nectarines, pluots and 17 varieties of apples.
“Paradise is everything the name implies,” said Tom Hurst, 67, who grew up there and raised horses at his 7-acre Outlaw’s Roost ranch.
He has relatives in the local cemetery dating back to the early 1900s, and he refuses to talk about the town in the past tense. In fact, some buildings still stand, among them the town hall, the 750-seat performing arts center and the Feather River Hospital, its newer sections damaged but intact.
“Don’t use the word ‘was,’ use the word ‘is,’ because we ain’t done, we’re just getting restarted,” Hurst said.
And yet, there’s so much to mourn.
A month ago, the Paradise Symphony was rehearsing for the local “Nutcracker” ballet, and kids were pulling out their skates as the outdoor ice rink was set to open for the winter. The Paradise Post reported that fifth-graders were building cardboard arcade games and warned of backyard bats with rabies.
Now, crews search for live power lines and gas leaks. Rescue teams pull human remains from cars and homes. Fire crews tamp out smoking piles, and a heavy layer of gray-brown haze hangs over the town.
The toxic, smoky air is a visceral reminder of what’s missing in this place where the skies were so blue by day, and dark by night.
“The most cherished thing for me about Paradise were the summer nights my mother and I would sit out on the porch under the clear, starry night,” said Harold Taylor, who moved to Paradise eight years ago, caring for his mother until she died.
Patrick Knuthson said visitors always were amazed by the glittering stars and the meteor showers, brilliant streaks of light that shot across the summer skies.
“We used to tell people all the time, ‘We made sure to turn all of them on for you,’” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to get that back.”
Associated Press journalists Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco and Gillian Flaccus in Paradise contributed to this report.
Number of missing hard to peg in deadly California wildfire
By JANIE HAR
Saturday, November 17
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — More than 1,000 people are unaccounted for after a deadly Northern California wildfire, but authorities warned Friday that the roster is fluid and contains “raw data,” including the names of people who are safe.
Some of the people on the ever-evolving list compiled by the Butte County sheriff’s office have been confirmed dead by family and friends on social media. Others have been found safe, but authorities have not yet marked them as such.
And some, like Tamara Conry, say they never should have been on the list.
“My husband and I are not missing and never were!” Conry wrote Thursday night on a Facebook page dedicated to finding people from the fire zone in and around the incinerated town of Paradise. “We have no family looking for us … I called and left a message to take our names off.”
The confusion stems from the difficulty authorities face putting together a tally of the missing as they pore through hundreds of reports filed by people who could not reach loved ones in the aftermath of a blaze that spread with astonishing speed last week. It became the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea initially said 110 people were missing, then revised the number to more than 220. He put it at 130 on Wednesday but released a list the same night with 300 names.
He dramatically raised the number to 631 late Thursday and then to 1,011 on Friday.
He said staff continues to collect information by email and phone calls and are updating the list. They’re also going through a surge of calls that came in during the disaster’s frantic early hours.
“It’s difficult. Because we have a significant event, an unprecedented event where a massive amount of people were displaced from their homes, all over Northern California,” Honea said Friday.
Jan Walcott of Oakland has been tweeting since the day after the fire started Nov. 8 that she was looking for her 78-year-old sister, Joyce Acheson, who lives in Paradise and has disabilities.
When the list of missing emerged, her sister’s name was on it, along with someone with a similar spelling, Joyce Atchison — prompting speculation they might be the same person. But that’s not the case.
“There were two people with similar names, and it caused confusion,” Walcott said.
Her sister has still not been located. She said she is staying in touch with the sheriff’s office and checking social media for updates.
The wildfire has killed at least 71 people, with the number climbing daily.
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Miranda Bowersox said Friday that the list of people who are unaccounted for is not a real-time reflection of who is missing. She said the office is distributing the names widely in the hope anyone on it might call in and say they’re OK.
“They might not be in the area anymore. There might be friends and family here who don’t know they left, that they went to another area,” she said.
Conry, whose Paradise house escaped largely unscathed, said she left a voicemail with the sheriff’s office Thursday night and called again Friday morning and talked to a person.
“She was excited to hear that we were OK,” said Conry, who is 55 and not 72 as the list reported.
Conry said friends and family knew she and her husband were all right because they had her cellphone numbers and she was posting on social media. She realizes that might not be the case for others.
“Nobody calls our home line except for telemarketers,” she said.
In last year’s wine country wildfires, Sonoma County authorities at one point listed more than 2,000 people as missing but slowly whittled down the number. In the end, 44 people died in that series of fires in several California counties.
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea’s name was misspelled.
Lurching Toward Catastrophe: The Trump Administration and Nuclear Weapons
By Lawrence Wittner
In July 2017, by a vote of 122 to 1, with one abstention, nations from around the world attending a United Nations-sponsored conference in New York City voted to approve a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Although this Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons received little coverage in the mass media, its passage was a momentous event, capping decades of international nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements that, together, have reduced the world’s nuclear weapons arsenals by approximately 80 percent and have limited the danger of a catastrophic nuclear war. The treaty prohibited all ratifying countries from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons.
Curiously, though, despite official support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by almost two-thirds of the world’s nations, the Trump administration―like its counterparts in other nuclear-armed countries―regarded this historic measure as if it were being signed in a parallel, hostile universe. As a result, the United States and the eight other nuclear powers boycotted the treaty negotiations, as well as the final vote. Moreover, after the treaty was approved amid the tears, cheers, and applause of the UN delegates and observers, a joint statement issued by the UN ambassadors of the United States, Britain, and France declared that their countries would never become party to the international agreement.
One clear indication that the nuclear powers have no intention of dispensing with their nuclear arsenals is the nuclear weapons buildup that all of them are now engaged in, with the U.S. government in the lead. Although the Trump administration inherited its nuclear weapons “modernization” program from its predecessor, that program―designed to provide new weapons for nuclear warfare, accompanied by upgraded or new facilities for their production―is constantly increasing in scope and cost. In October 2017, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the cost for the planned “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex over the next three decades had reached a staggering $1.2 trillion. Thanks to the Trump administration’s plan to upgrade the three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad and build new cruise and ballistic missiles, the estimated cost of the U.S. nuclear buildup rose in February 2018 to $2 trillion.
In this context, the Trump administration has no interest in pursuing the nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, discussed or signed, that have characterized the administrations of all Democratic and Republican administrations since the dawn of the nuclear era. Not only are no such agreements currently being negotiated, but in October 2018 the Trump administration, charging Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, announced a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from it. Signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the treaty removed all medium range nuclear missiles from Europe, established a cooperative relationship between the two nations that led to the end of the Cold War, and served subsequently as the cornerstone of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms controls.
Although some Allied leaders joined Trump in questioning Russian compliance with the treaty, most criticized the U.S. pullout, claiming that treaty problems could be solved through U.S.-Russian negotiations. Assailing the U.S. action, which portended a nuclear weapons buildup by both nations, a spokesperson for the European Union declared: “The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability.” Nevertheless, Trump, in his usual insouciant style, immediately announced that the U.S. government planned to increase its nuclear arsenal until other nations “come to their senses.”
Of course, as Daniel Ellsberg has noted in his book, The Doomsday Machine, nuclear weapons are meant to be used―either to bully other nations into submission or to wage a nuclear war. Certainly, that is President Trump’s view of them, as indicated by his startling nuclear threats. In August 2017, angered by North Korea’s nuclear missile progress and the belligerent statements of its leaders, Trump warned that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States” or “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” In January 2018, referring to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, Trump boasted provocatively that “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his.” Fortunately, largely thanks to the skillful diplomatic maneuvers of South Korean President Moon Jae-in―Trump’s threats of nuclear war against North Korea have recently ground to a halt, at least temporarily.
But they are now being redirected against Iran. In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement with Iran that had been negotiated by the governments of the United States and other major nations. Designed to ensure that Iran did not develop nuclear weapons, the agreement, as UN inspectors reported, had been strictly complied with by that nation. Even so, Trump, angered by other actions of the Iranian regime, pulled out of the agreement and, in its place, instituted punitive economic sanctions on Iran, accompanied by calls to overthrow its government. When, in July, the Iranian president cautioned Trump about pursing policies hostile to his nation, the U.S. president tweeted, in bold capitals: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.” Just in case Iranians missed the implications of this extraordinary statement, Trump’s hawkish national security advisor, John Bolton, followed up by declaring: “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.”
This obsession of the Trump administration with building nuclear weapons and threatening nuclear war underscores its unwillingness to join other governments in developing a sane nuclear policy. Indeed, it seems determined to continue lurching toward unparalleled catastrophe.
Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).
From the Editors of E – The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: Does the Scott brand’s “tube-free” toilet paper really save much paper or is it just another form of corporate greenwashing? — Matt Potamkin, Milwaukee, WI
Ditching the cardboard tube in the middle of the toilet paper roll is definitely a step in the right direction for Scott, the paper company owned by multinational conglomerate Kimberly-Clark, as it tries to do what it can for the planet while still providing the products its customers have come to depend on.
According to Scott, Americans currently discard some 17 billion cardboard toilet paper tubes every year—enough to fill the Empire State Building twice over. Meanwhile, RecycleBank, a company that works with municipalities to reward consumers for increasing recycling, reports that most of these cardboard tubes—some 160 million pounds worth every year—end up in landfills even though they could easily be recycled (or even turned into compost if thrown into the yard waste bin instead of the regular trash).
It is ironic that Scott, the company that first introduced the cardboard core to toilet paper rolls back in 1890, is the first modern-day manufacturer to go without it. But don’t worry about toilet paper tubes going away completely anytime soon. Scott is the only major manufacturer offering a tube-free option right now, and the vast majority of its own toilet paper sales are for those with the trusty old tube.
As far as environmental advocates are concerned, tube-free is better than not, but critics say Scott could do a lot better. “When they come out with getting rid of the tube, the logical thing to say is, ‘Is that the best that they could do?’ No, it’s not,” says Allen Hershkowitz of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental group. “But I wouldn’t label this greenwashing. I’d say this is a helpful initiative.”
For its part, Scott has been hesitant to add recycled content to its toilet papers due to compromised quality and softness. “We are still researching alternative fibers and evaluating them based on quality and availability for potential use in the future,” says Scott’s brand manager Jared Mackrory. “Right now we’re making a difference where we can.”
Beyond losing the tube, Scott has begun using fibers certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council, a non-profit wood, paper and forest products certification entity. And the company has pledged to replace half of all of its wood fiber with more sustainable alternatives by 2025.
In the meantime, it’s up to each and every one of us to do our part to reduce our use of toilet paper. One quick and easy way to stop wasting squares would be to install a Control-n-Roll on your toilet paper holder. This nifty reusable foam insert costs $4.99 for a two-pack, and its manufacturer claims it can cut your toilet paper use by 50 percent by serving as a brake on the roll when you stop pulling.
An even better way to reduce toilet paper use is by installing a bidet, which uses a jet of water to clean your nether regions so you can save the toilet paper for patting yourself dry. Blue Bidet gets high marks for ease-of-installation and high-quality workmanship despite being affordable.
CONTACTS: Scott Brand, www.scottbrand.com; NRDC, www.nrdc.org; Control-n-Roll, www.controlnroll.com; Blue Bidet, www.bluebidet.com.
EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. To donate, visit www.earthtalk.org. Send questions to: email@example.com.