When the Camp Fire raced through Paradise, California, in 2018, the town’s residents were faced with a decision: They could stay in their homes, which might burn to the ground; they could sit in traffic on one of the four clogged evacuation routes in the fire’s path; or they could retreat somewhere that might be protected from the encroaching flames. Around 75 people rushed to the west side of town, where they sought refuge in Bille Park, 56 acres of redwood groves, hiking trails and a playground. They spent hours in the city’s green space, huddled under a large metal picnic pavilion, sheltering from flying embers, but they survived.
“If they’d stayed at home, they would’ve likely perished,” said Dan Efseaff, the Paradise Recreation and Park District manager. Sparked by electrical transmission lines, the Camp Fire was the deadliest, most destructive fire in California history. The blaze killed at least 85 people and destroyed 18,000 structures. And it showed how the usual suggestions for home hardening, such as clearing vegetation or removing propane tanks near homes, are not always enough on their own — especially since not everyone can afford to do them. Efseaff and other Paradise government leaders realized that when a fire is that dangerous, individual actions aren’t enough to protect homes and people from future fires. Efseaff is now working on a project that he hopes can protect entire neighborhoods, not just individual properties: a combination firebreak and trail system that would encircle Paradise.