We’ve all read the numbers: 88 dead; 25 missing; nearly 14,000 homes destroyed …
We’ve all seen the photos: charred vehicles; flattened homes; obliterated landscapes …
But nothing can really capture the feeling of what the Camp Fire has left behind until you see it for yourself.
Last week Feather Publishing sent two of its most seasoned reporters down the Canyon — one to take photos and the other to check in with locals and businesses. Neither was prepared for what they would encounter.
Will Farris, who is a Vietnam veteran where he served as a medic, said, “I have never seen anything like it. You can feel the fear.”
Farris lives in the canyon and regularly makes the trip up and down and knows most of the folks along the way. The farther you go the worse the devastation becomes. Finally, he decided to turn around and come home.
“It was emotionally devastating; too much to take in,” he said, but he did his job, interviewed the business owners and shared some of the challenges they have been facing.
Likewise criminal justice reporter Victoria Metcalf returned from her trip shaken. And not much shakes Metcalf. She stands alongside local law enforcement at the scene of horrendous accidents and delves into the details of some of the most horrific crimes that have occurred in Plumas County. When a fire breaks out, she grabs her camera and goes.
When she returned to the newsroom following her picture-taking trip, which included going into Concow, one of the areas ravaged by the Camp Fire, she described the experience as “haunting.”
She stopped at the iconic Rock House or what remains of it and snapped some photos. She took pictures of charred vistas. She took pictures of abandoned, burned vehicles and leveled houses, and couldn’t wait to turn around and come home.
In addition to the utter destruction, Metcalf said there was a sense of lawlessness as people drove often erratically in the fire zones. Even if there aren’t erratic drivers, there are work crews and heavy equipment seemingly everywhere once one passes the tunnels.
Both Farris and Metcalf advise motorists to steer clear of the canyon — at least until crews are able to better mitigate the damage and the first rounds of evacuees returning to their burned-out homes are past. It’s a caution that has been echoed by Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol. And if you do have to make the trip, drive carefully and always check to ensure that it is open.
Any change in weather or circumstance could bring debris and mud down onto the highway.
The work will continue in the canyon for months, and the rebuilding process in the fire areas will take years. It has cast a pall that is palpable and extends to not only those directly affected by the Camp Fire, but all those who know the area and its people — just as it was for our two reporters who ventured down there to do their jobs and came away haunted by what they saw.