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Many people have been spared from the #CampFire that has scorched Paradise in Northern California. But far more have lost everything.

Northern California has had quite a punch in the face with this Camp Fire burning seemingly unabated through Paradise. I live in the sister town of Chico, and was evacuated the other day about an hour after getting the kids to bed. After a painfully long car ride with three sobbing kids trying to understand why police cars had filled our neighborhood with blue and red lights and officers were knocking on all the doors to ensure everyone was packing up to pack out, we arrived in a pet-friendly hotel in Sacramento at about 1:30am.

We’re back in our home now, the sting of smoke in the air and constantly creeping in no matter how tight we keep the windows shut. I’ve been working closely with folks from Butte College to centralize messaging and communication for those who have been affected, which is pushing close to 140 people. From the people who have lost their homes to the entire town of Paradise having been nearly wiped off the map, for those of us still fortunate enough to have a home to come back to life is a somber reminder of just how quickly everything can be lost.

Many people are making this a political issue. Now is not the time to do that. Now is the time focus on the fabric of our community, on helping other people, on ensuring that no matter what was lost, there is always a friendly neighbor to rely on. We may have lost our sister town but we did not lose our sense of community. Chico is going to be welcoming folks from Paradise in with open arms for the coming days, weeks, and months, and as the dust begins to (quite literally) settle from all this, the looming questions of what we do with a town that burned down are slowly coming into focus.

When tragedy strikes, self-expression is a powerful healing mechanism. Art is a conduit through which grief is processed, and this is true for both adults and children. There is a really great discussion in the academic side of the creative writing community on the Paradox of Fiction that explores how emotions are woken through fiction and art as expression. For those of us who have those drives to make art, it is imperative that we do so; art in society is a contribution to a collective understanding of how we feel about, understand, and ultimately cope with the emotional reality around us.

I am incredibly fortunate to still have a house that is standing and able to be lived in. Many others from my place of employment cannot say the same thing. The days to come are going to be challenging and frankly, I don’t know what will happen.

What I do know, however, is that throughout all of this, the way I can process it the best is to continue to focus on my writing. If you’re also and artist, you know what you have to do.

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