Dec 17, 2018

Throughout every year, the team at GoPro gets to work with our friends over at Videomaker Magazine – ensuring they have a chance to put our products through the paces so they can share their impressions with their readers. We see them in-person at tradeshows and when we do big launch events. We correspond regularly on email. We are big fans of the work they do to empower their audience with encouragement, inspiration and information about the tools that enable them to go out and make videos.

Videomaker’s HQ is in Chico, California, placing them at the doorstep of one of the worst wildfires in history, affecting the entire team and leaving a significant portion of displaced. We invited Videomaker to share their story with us, with words, with footage they were able to capture from fire zone, and with information on how we can all support their recovery. 

Words By Sean Berry of Videomaker

This extra-long fire season has left Northern California devastated. The Camp Fire burned through Butte County and destroyed the entire town of Paradise. Evacuees have been displaced and the road to recovery will be long and hard.

The Camp Fire is officially the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history. It ignited November 8th, 2018, and wasn’t fully contained until November 25th. In its nearly three week lifespan, the fire killed 85 people and destroyed almost 14,000 homes, leaving the entire community of Paradise displaced all across Butte County, California, and — for some — the country.

Paradise was a peaceful and beautiful town before the fire; there was no better name for such a place. After the fire, the tranquil town is almost unrecognizable. Videomaker, a magazine media company which focuses on video technology and technique, is located only 15 minutes from Paradise. They went to Paradise before the evacuations were lifted with a few GoPros to document the destruction:

The footage is hard to watch knowing what the town used to be. During the time of our shoot, many Paradise residents had not yet confirmed whether their homes had survived the fire. The evacuation orders are now being lifted in phases, but many are still unable to return. Unfortunately, even after all evacuation orders are lifted, much of the community will still be left homeless with nowhere to go.

360 video offers a unique perspective

It’s no surprise that the Camp Fire has attracted the attention of both local and national media outlets. Professional and amateur journalists alike have done their best to record the devastation of the fire using everything from cell phones to camcorders to drones and even law enforcement body cams. All over the web, photos and videos document the destruction and recovery efforts and animated graphics give context to statistics about the fire.

But despite this extensive documentation, nothing can convey the emotional impact of this historic fire quite as well as immersive 360-degree video. 360 video gives viewers the ability to look around the scene and focus on specific areas of interest, making it especially well-suited communicating the deep and lasting impact the Camp Fire has had on the town of Paradise. We hope this perspective will emphasize the community’s urgent and on-going need for assistance.

The fire may be out, but the crisis has just begun

The Camp Fire has left a huge housing crisis for Butte County and surrounding areas in its wake. 14,000 homes were destroyed in the fire, leaving tens of thousands homeless. Officials have declared a state of emergency in their homeless shelters, and federal funding is needed to help temporarily house the evacuees.

Butte County already had a homeless problem before the fire with about a homeless population of around 2,000 prior to the fire, with half of them not using the emergency shelters and transitional housing. That’s according to a report by the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care. Now, the number of homeless has skyrocketed.

Jennifer Griggs, the Continuum of Care coordinator, said that after the fire “not only did all of that vacancy rate get swooped up right away but now it’s even more of a challenge to find any type of housing for anybody, regardless of their housing status prior.”

Simply put, there’s just not enough housing in Butte County to house the Paradise evacuees. The number of people seeking housing in the county has greatly increased since the fire and it seems nearly impossible to find options. Many have had to camp in make-shift campsites around the county, one of those places being a Walmart parking lot in the nearby town of Chico. FEMA is helping put evacuees into hotels and giving out money out for rental housing, but there’s simply nothing out there to rent.

It's a heartbreaking situation that currently has no clear answer.

A long road to recovery

There are efforts to rebuild  the town of Paradise, but it will undoubtedly take years. But many of the residents can’t imagine living anywhere else, but there are some that are wary to return because of the high fire danger of the area. The question on many people’s minds is whether or not it’s safe to rebuild in Paradise — not to mention the trauma and healing process that prevents many residents from wanting to rebuild.

California has been stricken by severe drought for years. More frequent and more powerful wildfires have become the norm in the state. Nevertheless, there are ways to rebuild Paradise will make the town much safer and resistant to fire. More escape routes can be built, fuel breaks can be made and buildings can be created with more fire-resistant materials and design features.

A quarter of Videomaker’s staff was displaced by the fire, and many lost their homes. They’ve set up a fundraising effort to support their staff and former staff, but their fund is one of thousands. While the current state of things is bleak for the community of Paradise and there are a lot of unanswered questions, one thing is for sure: Paradise will rise again.