A website and public Facebook group have recently been set up by Camp Fire survivors to tell their stories firsthand.
The site, campfiresurvivors.com, appears to have been established in the first few days of February. It includes a section for survivors to write and submit stories about their experience during California’s deadliest-ever wildfire, and for the community and world at large to read those stories.
All stories will be published anonymously, the website says.
The website includes a map showing more than 250 communities to which survivors have moved. A majority of the survivors stayed in California, but roughly a quarter of them spread elsewhere, into at least 29 other states. At least two families to Hawaii.
The map was conceived by David Forsyth of Jackson. Forsyth had extended family members lose three homes in Paradise, and first volunteered for wildfire victims by serving Christmas dinners to survivors of the 2015 Butte Fire that affected Amador and Calaveras counties.
“I thought, ‘Boy if something like this ever happens again, I want to be a part of this,’” Forsyth said.
Forsyth said he had a vision come to him one day of a map of the United States with millions of hearts, and arrows from each of those hearts pointing toward Paradise.
“I want to show that our hearts are with Paradise. Regardless if we live in New York, wherever we live, our hearts are heading toward Paradise.”
He turned that vision into something slightly different. Using geographic basic information that Camp Fire survivors voluntarily sent him via comments to the Paradise Fire Adopt a Family’s page on Facebook, Forsyth created a Google Map last week showing communities where Camp Fire survivors are now living. The map has been viewed more than 30,000 times in just four or five days, Forsyth said.
Forsyth on Jan. 17 created the Camp Fire Survivors group on Facebook, a now-public page with 135 members who use it to share stories, information and resources with one another as they cope and recover from the disaster that leveled the town of Paradise.
Forsyth on Tuesday coordinated with a Chico-based web designer who had established the campfiresurvivors.com webpage. The two started independent of each other, but Forsyth said they are teaming up to combine the Facebook page, map and website into a single effort.
The intent, Forsyth said, is to populate the website with firsthand stories from Camp Fire survivors, and to gain attention nationwide.
“Their story is what will keep the interest of the American public,” Forsyth said. “Once the American public realizes that they don’t have to go to Paradise, California, to help a survivor, they’ll realize they can help a survivor in their community.”
With that awareness, Forsyth says, the public can create a network of survivors and “helpers” to assist former Paradise residents as they get back on their feet.
Only one story has been published to the website so far, titled “Chico Base.” In it, the writer describes the morning of Nov. 8, as they prepared “to go to the office like any regular day” before seeing a large cloud that turned. The writer and writer’s sister thought it was rain. It was not.
Kim Lathrop, one of the Facebook group’s four moderators, said she lost everything in the fire. After her Yankee Hill home burned down, she returned to that property in a travel trailer.
Lathrop used to work at Kalico Kitchen on Skyway in Paradise, which was also destroyed. She now works in Chico.
The survivors website also includes photos taken by Chico photographer Kim Higman. Those images document the devastation in Butte County homes, vehicles and property lost as the November 2018 wildfire consumed more than 18,000 buildings.