Google Earth updates Paradise imagery post #Campfire – the images are shocking

I knew it would be coming, and it has arrived.

First, a reminder image of that fateful day.

Image from Landsat 8, November 8th, 2018, approximately 10:30AM

Google Earth Pro (free app) has updated the aerial imagery for Paradise, CA to show the results after the devastating Campfire of November 8th, 2018. The new satellite imagery is dated December 11th, 2018 just over a month later. Here are before and after images showing a section of the town on Clark Road, where the Safeway shopping center was. You can see that shopping complex in the lower left of the comparison photo.

Paradise, CA showing Safeway shopping center before and after the #CampFire July 2nd, 2017 -vs- December 11th, 2018. Images from Google Earth Pro. Click to enlarge.

Here is another comparison view, showing the Feather River Hospital complex on Pentz road, and the Feather River Canyon, where the fire roared through that fateful morning.

Paradise, CA Feather River Hospital before and after the #CampFire July 2nd, 2017 -vs- December 11th, 2018. Images from Google Earth Pro. Click to enlarge.

The difference in the before and after is striking due to the lack of vegetation. Even in the winter, there would be a lot of green showing as the area is prominently covered in evergreen trees. Feather River Hospital remains closed today.

Finally, downtown Paradise, showing the corner of Skyway and Pearson Road in the lower left, near where the fateful traffic bottleneck occurred, due to what I considered incompetent city planning to “calm” traffic at the expense of a fast escape route.

Paradise, CA downtown showing the corner of Skyway and Pearson Rd. before and after the #CampFire July 2nd, 2017 -vs- December 11th, 2018. Images from Google Earth Pro. Click to enlarge.

As of this writing, these images have not yet appeared in the webpage version of Google Maps with the satellite view enabled, they are only available in the desktop version, though I have not investigated the Phone App version.

You can download Google Earth Pro for free here.

Also, a hat-tip to Jeff Greeson, of the Butte County District Attorney’s office, who alerted me to this updated imagery. Here’s a video he did with his own narrative.



53 thoughts on “Google Earth updates Paradise imagery post #Campfire – the images are shocking

  1. As horrible as the fire was the Earth will repair itself rather quickly so long as the California bureaucracy stays away. It will be interesting to see these pictures every six months.

  2. Google Earth did the same thing with Harvey, very useful. Why do so many, including commercial, keep building in harms way? Is it boilerplate facilites from top management? Government bailouts?

      • True, but I still wouldn’t build a wooden house in a box canyon with only one way out, in an area with a history of extended droughts, and leave a lot of flammable material right up to my walls.

    • Rebuilding in those areas should be done with concrete and steel, with ceramic roofing and small windows. Plus, underground fire-storm bunkers with self-contained air supplies.

      The only rational response to these incidents is massively revised building codes.

      • “Massively”? You mean thoroughly, right? Appropriately, suitably, substantially, but I doubt the thing actually masses much.

        • You have clearly never gone through a set of building codes, it is a pile of paper weighing several hundred pounds even in places outside Cali. I imagine it would be closer to a ton anywhere in Cali.

    • Need to go to Paradise, then go to Bob’s house (southeast of pond/park area) and ask him why his house didn’t burn; then enact the “Bob construction practices & maintenance” ordinance.

  3. Firestorms will eventually reduce fuel loads whenever public authorities fail in their duty to do so. California is subject to this iron rule, no differently from Victoria or New South Wales in Australia.

    • “Firestorms will eventually reduce fuel loads whenever public authorities fail in their duty to do so.”

      That’s about as simple as you can put it. A “Never Burn/Never Log/Never Clear” policy is a physical impossibility.

    • and if they keep NOT burning off near towns in rural areas…we will see many more soon downunder.
      notes in letterboxes about local town fringe burnoffs this year
      what happened?
      its been around 20yrs since a fire in my area
      meanwhile phalaris and prickly acacia abound all over roadsides.
      both burn fast and hard and green growth on acacias goes up like the old name for it
      kerosine bush.
      yes you can run firebreaks round properties but that wont stop embers

  4. It’s curious how some buildings in the path of the fire escaped virtually unscathed, while ones just a short distance away were demolished. See, for example, the small office park at 6161 Clark Rd, just north of the Safeway. Different building materials, pro-active fire suppression, or dumb luck?

    • I have heard others describe a church with a large well manicured and watered lawn that survived intact. Perhaps the availability of large amounts of dry fuel very near the structure has a lot to do with the survival of a building.

      • What I don’t get is the houses burned but not the trees. Also, the pictures look darker due to the time of day. Long shadows in second picture. Seems to me many would have been fine if more home owners had stayed and put out ground fires since trees didn’t burn.

        • Obviously, it was not a “forest fire”, because the houses and the cars were torched, but the trees are still green. Not natural at all. Look up “California Fires – Citizen Investigator Latest Video”

    • That building at 6161 Clark Road has a clay tile roof, according to Street View.

      It appears to me that roofs that were asphalt shingles or in the case of Safeway, flat tarred roofs, did not fare well in the fire.

      • I suspect the flat roofs accumulated tinder. If the flat roofs had a facade or raised rim, they would accumulate years of needles in a dry, fluffy pile. These would preferentially occur in the wind lee areas of the roof – right where the embers would have landed.

        Gutters could also create the same hazard on pitched roofs. Either spot is more likely to be adjacent to some water-damaged, spongy wood that is far easier to ignite.

        I have seen plenty of homes in Colorado survive forest fires that swept right past them. I hope the CA residents get some good fire investigators that provide lessons to minimize the damage from the next blaze.

    • That’s amazing that building didn’t burn. 4 houses right next to it did. I would have thought radiant heat would have set it on fire. I wonder if it’s concrete, stucco or cinder block construction.

      • A lot of stucco made it. There was a huge wind storm that day. And I live in the middle of the destruction.
        The only work I keep saying over and over is strange… strange that the whole neighborhoods are gone with just one house standing. A lot of the trees are filled with fluid so that makes sense why the trees made it but MANY trees didn’t. It happened so fast we are all in disbelief.

    • It also appeared to be surrounded with asphalt – no trees. It’s unfortunate to contemplate forest homes without their forests, but… hopefully they do a tough-minded analysis of what survived and why, learn from the mistakes and implement smart planning before they begin to rebuild. Among other things, maybe homeowners in fire-prone areas will have to pay much higher insurance rates. It’s asking for trouble to run power lines through fire-prone forests with Santa Ana winds perennially blasting through them. Since utilities (lately) seem to be bearing the responsibility for hundreds of these fires, I’d imagine they may soon simply refuse to power such homes. What if they required them to run on stand-alone solar? Alternatively… surround your house with parking-lot sized blacktop.

      Up through 2010, Californians built more than two million homes in the most fire-prone regions of the state. At least 1.6 million more are expected to go up in the next 30 years in areas the state designates as “very high fire risk.”

      California Burns for Better Leaders
      Perverse housing incentives block urban high rises and set the woods on fire.

      (WSJ editorial by Holman Jenkins)

      • Bill P.,
        hopefully they do a tough-minded analysis of what survived and why,

        Yes, this will be done, right to the top foot of the soil, to the plastic handles on garden equipment, and much more. Perhaps in 6 months there will be a detailed report.
        You will have to look for such things. Six months from now most media will be on to a different topic.

        Regarding learning, look up “fire_wise” and “fire adapted communities.”

        • I looked at some of these links. They seem a bit short on specifics on first pass. But I took away something that I agree with: adapting only your own home is short sighted. Adaptions (creating “safe spaces”, for example) must be undertaken in collaboration with entire communities. Clearly, the problems of mitigating involve people’s attitudes… “It’s not going to happen here” (or) “It’s nature… if it happens it happens” (or) “It’s all too overwhelming, costly, work-intensive, pointless,” etc. (or) “Why should I do anything? My neighbors aren’t mitigating” Then there are the points of view of the politicians / developers / insurance companies / home builders / government bureaucrats, Greens / environmentalists … all of whose self interests conflict with common sense safety measures.

    • Stone, brick, better landscape logistics, old men with water hoses, shifting winds, God and/ or luck.

    • We stayed at a B&B outside Leavenworth, Washington which survived a wildfire go right over it. Tile roof (re: non-flammable, burning embers landing on it wont’ hurt it**); vegetation well-maintained, and away from the structure; hardscape next to the structure. The fire dept wanted to use pictures of it as an example of what to do right, so your home will have an increased chance of survival.

      **in a wildfire, the most likely reason a home will burn is embers (which can originate quite a distance away.) landing on the roof and setting it on fire. One of the worst materials – which used to be *required* by HOA’s – are cedar shingles.

  5. Though many tall evergreens burned, many survived. The low chaparral, however, is all consumed. It seems that clearing the shrub around your house is good fire prevention.

  6. So we need a catastrophe here in IL to get our Google maps picture updated from 2014?
    (extreme sarcasm intended)

  7. You know those are summer vs winter images, right? Aside from the burned out buildings, you can’t really tell anything from those images.

    • I would estimate that the majority of those trees were conifers, and should be in full-green regalia about now. Additionally, the hills in California burst into green with the winter and spring rains. Driving through Malibu on the PCH in November, it was all brown and black. Now? I’d say 40% of it is green with grasses and plants springing right back.

      • Currently all green on the hills east of the 880 on the Oakland and Fremont side of SF Bay area. It has rained nearly every day this month.

      • Can’t tell from satellite. Dark ground, evening sun make it look darker. Note long shadows from street poles.

    • There’s a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees in the above images. Seems about evenly split. From what I’ve read, Paradise has a lot of oaks as well as pines. Don’t mean to be rude, but IMO anyone who let’s evergreens grow anywhere near their building is dumber than dirt. I won’t allow even better-rooted deciduous trees to be within striking distance of my house, much less pines. My last snow storm took out about 5-10 trees, all pines.

  8. Wow. I cannot imagine what that was like to live through. It would be interesting to see a local “lessons learned” when all of this is settled. Fire is one scary thing.

    • Its California so don’t hold your breath. Global Warming is to blame and that is about as much thought of the cause as you will find.

  9. Juan Browne has produced a good series on the Camp Fire and destruction of Paradise on his YouTube channel Blancolirio. Browne is an airline pilot who lives near Paradise and has a light plane that he used to show aerial views of the place where the fire began, where it spread, and the destruction of Paradise. He included interviews with Paradise residents on their experiences with the fire and how they escaped, and an interview with a nurse who helped evacuate the hospital. He also gave a history of wildfires in the area, P.G.&E., the buildup of fuel, how the fire spread so quickly, and the difficulty people had in escaping after Paradise installed “traffic calming” measures to restrict traffic.

  10. Thanks Anthony.

    Last fire up our way (central Washington State) went by just 2.6 miles to our north.

  11. Its interesting to see what vegetation has already sprouted in the area devastated by the volcano in Hawaii. Doesn’t take long

    • we have green grass growing over the mountains and hills.. bulbs sprouting and rose bushes sprouting green,,

  12. Dear Anthony

    Here is a poem I wrote after fleeing a fire in Greece back in the 1980’s . Unfortunately there were two big fires end of july last year, 100 kilometers apart, on the same day. Which resulted in 100 deaths in one of them , due to bad planning: in allocating resources, in municipal roads ,and in the evacuation in the second one.


    Trees for years and years
    dream in the sun
    gathering and storing
    golden light

    Birds nest in their foliage
    rodents root around their trunks
    their shadow an oasis
    for all live things

    in the very hot and dry
    days of July
    a high killing wind
    whips flames
    inadvertently lit
    into enormous firestorms

    Life forms scramble out
    as fast as they can,
    plants await
    their foreordained death.
    All that light stored
    released in crackle
    and smoke
    as the tree spirits rise
    in an untimely sacrifice .

    At night
    the front
    burns on the mountain
    like a love letter
    thrown in the fireplace,
    now and then
    enormous fireworks
    shoot up
    as pine trees die.

    Ashes and coal cover everything
    until spring,
    when seedlings
    feasting on the remains of their parents
    tentatively thrust green shoots
    into the light
    renewing the cycle of green life.
    (watch out for those goats that
    eat anything)

    Not to forget that pine forests reproduce themselves by fire

  13. Damn, seeing all the burned structures definitely brings the message home. I worked firelines for MS Forestry in ’70s and again in mid ’80s, was rolled twice, and the difference between seeing forest/brush gone and seeing that many structures gone is quite stark. Hope y’all will be allowed to do the right thing in rebuilding that region.

  14. Don’t hold your breath over the “lessons learned” from this fire. The lessons are well known and have been for a long time. The methods and materials for a virtually fireproof house are readily available. Riddle me this: Why don’t building codes require them? Why don’t developers use them? Why don’t consumers demand them? Why don’t insurance companies decline to cover wood frame structures…little more than bonfires waiting to happen? Money? Sales? Profit? Tradition? Inertia? Ignorance?

    • The “spanish colonists” who lived there long before whitey knew how to build structures that could survive such conditions, and the “locals” just did not build permanent structures in those regions. Hmmmmm, almost like they knew something!

  15. The color filters don’t match. Check the color of the asphalt and the streams. Check out one of the white buildings that survived and just focus on that one building while flipping across the two images. The color patterns don’t tell us much. What really surprises me is how much remains standing.

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