Feb. 22, 2019
Best of the States
Victims of the Paradise wildfire; stunning portraits of how they lived and died
The wildfire that consumed Paradise, California, claimed 85 lives while virtually burning the town off the map. But beyond those facts lay a rich narrative of the individuals who perished while calling Paradise home.
AP San Francisco reporters Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker set out to tell the stories of the victims of the deadly Paradise fire far more comprehensively than was possible in the immediate aftermath: Who were they? Where and when did they die? Did they even have a chance to flee?
To paint a picture of how the tragedy unfolded, the pair spent months tracking down family members – many of whom were wary – to talk about their loved ones, assuring them that AP’s coverage would be more than a recitation of the grim facts. Interviews with California fire officials, a newly available simulation of the fire’s movement on the fateful morning and public records requests enabled AP to produce an interactive graphic giving the exact locations where people died and their approximate times of death.
The result was a riveting package that coupled intimate portraits of the victims with the circumstances of their death. Most never had a chance to flee their homes as the fast-moving fire barreled through.
The moving package was well-received by members throughout California and from coast-to-coast.
For carrying the Paradise story forward with enterprising, sensitive work that focused on the victims’ narratives, Har and Gecker share this week’s Best of the States award.