© 2019 Chris Muhl Art. All rights reserved.

Over the past several weeks I had the unique opportunity to work with emergency teams on the Camp incident in Paradise, California. It’s hard to believe the devastation. The Camp Fire is the most destructive and deadliest fire in California history. In total, 13,972 residences were destroyed, along with 528 commercial buildings and 4,293 other buildings and structures.

As I drive along the streets, I think of all that is gone. Too many lives were lost. Too many families will mourn the passing of a beloved family member. And I try not to think of the helpless pets that had no chance, but my mind goes there, and I feel my eyes start to water. I think of homes filled with beloved heirlooms, family photos, secret boxes filled with old love letters, children’s drawings, and untold other irreplaceable possessions. I cannot imagine the emotions Paradise residents must be feeling. It’s so far beyond anything that I have ever experienced.

While working one day, I met a couple who lost their home. They are in the later years of their lives. We spoke about tomorrow, and what it might bring for them, and where they might go. What stood out most was their optimism. During our conversation, the woman said, with confidence in her voice, “our journey has just begun.” I feel blessed to have been in the presence of such wisdom. What a beautiful way to embrace disaster. Now I picture them on the road to somewhere, hand in hand, starting a journey and a new chapter in their lives. I think of love, and the resilience that love can foster.

I leave Paradise with lessons learned. More than anything, I see now how quickly the world around you can vanish. Everything can be gone, everything except love. Nothing and no one can take that away from you. And it’s all you need to survive anything.

To help Paradise residents, you can make donations to the American Red Cross, the California Community Foundation, or several other organizations.

To help displaced pets and animals, you can make donations to The North Valley Disaster Animal Group or the San Francisco SPCA.

Special thanks to my work colleague, Melissa, who throughout my time on the incident, was constantly thinking of ways to show love to the people of Paradise. Decorating and giving a Christmas tree to town hall was all her idea. It’s people like Melissa that remind us of the value of random acts of kindness.

ChristmasTree_CampFire_Paradise_CA_TownHall

Thoughts from the Road

I mostly post on this website about my art, but what I have written here arises from my day job as an incident mapping specialist.

This season, I’m working with small teams producing maps for the various other teams engaging wildfires. I work out of a trailer, miles away from the dangers of the uncontrolled fire edge. I work to support the firefighters that risk their lives to protect other lives, and homes, and properties.

On my last assignment, I had the tremendous honor of working alongside the incredible women and men of CAL FIRE, the Forest Service, and other agencies and organizations as they battle the Carr Fire around Redding, California. The Carr Fire has been an extraordinarily devastating incident, burning over 229,000 acres, consuming more than 1,000 residences, and claiming the lives of three firefighters and several civilians.

On this incident, I was struck by a firefighter’s comment about the severity of the season’s fires, “climate change should never have become a subject for political debate.” The reality is, the stakes are simply too high. We stand to lose too much. There is no time for debate.

It is true that wildfires occur naturally. However, the severity of California’s fires is escalating and the duration of the fire season is steadily increasing as annual temperatures rise and conditions grow dryer. With this change comes increasing risk to home owners, firefighters, and other emergency responders.

Taking Action Saves Lives

Personally, I ask myself, how could I ever expect firefighters to risk their lives protecting my home if I’m not voting in favor of policies that reduce the risk they encounter in the field.

Whether or not you believe in climate change, there is no denying that the frequency and intensity of wildfire events are growing as a consequence of hotter and dryer conditions. With these changes, lives are at risk. There is no time for blind allegiance and skepticism. We must be proactive today. If something can be done, it must be done.

Click here to be redirected to an informative article in High Country News about the current fire situation in California.

Also, if there are fires near you, check out airnow.gov to see air quality data for your area.