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2019 Breaking News, Medium Newsroom finalist

Camp Fire: California’s Deadliest Wildfire

About the Project

Even in a state under siege from massive wildfires, the blaze that swept out of the Feather River Canyon and across the town of Paradise on Nov. 8 was different.

In the end, the Camp Fire became the worst in California history, killing 85 people, destroying more than 18,000 structures and delivering a dire warning about fire danger in a warming climate. But in the beginning, it was chaos. Nonetheless, Chronicle staffers used everything they had learned in two years of covering catastrophic fires to deliver timely, accurate and powerful coverage to our print and online readers.

The Chronicle’s deeply reported coverage, from investigative articles and profiles of victims to graphics and a visual essay, broadened during the first hours and would continue for weeks, providing the highest-quality information to readers near the burn zones and across Northern California, which was blanketed with smoke.

SFChronicle.com was the home of our round-the-clock coverage. Readers tracked the spread of the flames in real time on our interactive California Fire Tracker tool. We posted dozens of news items in the first hours and days of the blaze, then built in-depth project pages as the tragedy’s severity became apparent. A visual essay made for mobile viewing used video and photos shot within feet of the flames. Chronicle producers sent special Camp Fire newsletters, captured audio for podcasts, and sent out information in all forms via notifications and on social platforms.

We were the first to report that local officials did not send an Amber Alert-style cell phone notification to evacuees, potentially costing lives. We provided exclusive accounts of escapes from the flames and dramatic rescues. And we immediately initiated our enterprise reporting on problems with evacuations, the uncertain health effects of breathing smoke, and larger explorations of who is to blame for the wildfire crisis in California.

We are proud to submit our Camp Fire coverage for the ONA’s Breaking News award.