Men's Health

WHAT FIRE CAN’T DESTROY

A ROUND 8:30 on the morning of November 8, 2018, psychiatrist Kirk Meekins was halfway through his first session of the day, with a patient who was struggling with depression and anxiety at the

Feather River Health Clinic in Paradise, California. Through his window, Dr. Meekins saw a smoke cloud building on the horizon.

A knock interrupted them. They had to leave, now.

Two hours earlier, a downed power line had sparked a fire seven miles northeast of Paradise and a steady wind had jammed the flames toward the town.

People here in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains live with the threat of wildfire. A decade earlier, a fire had slammed into the area, destroying 74 homes. In July 2018, a fire had ripped across 357 square miles near Redding that forced people to evacuate an hour south to Paradise. Few imagined a whole community could ever burn. Still, Dr. Meekins grabbed his things and left.

The inferno would kill at least 86 people, many in their houses and some in their cars as they fled on traffic-clogged roads. It nearly erased the town of 27,000, destroying more than 13,000 homes and scores of businesses. When I visited Paradise this past spring, flowers had burst through the ground, but the houses they once adorned were gone. Chimneys stood like memorial pillars. A metal staircase climbed to the second floor of nothing. A white picket fence hemmed in a green lawn and the empty footprint of a house. Behind another incinerated home, patio furniture with soft, inviting cushions circled around a fire pit waited for guests.

Cars burned to their axles littered the streets: pickup trucks and vans, economy hatchbacks and the fanciest sports cars, all hollowed out and rusty. Several schools burned, and Paradise’s only hospital was badly damaged. The town was a quilt of dumb luck and tragedy, depending on where the wind had pushed the flames and embers. Here

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