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Paradise Reader’s Guide

By Lizzie Johnson

Paradise by Lizzie Johnson


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Explain the difference between managing fire and fighting fire. Based on what you’ve read, do you think one can truly prevent the other?

2. Have you looked up controlled burns in your area? What have you learned? Are there topics that you’d like to research more?

3. The year of the fire, there were record-high temperatures in California. In fact, the author notes, “The whole world was warmer than it should have been.” What have you noticed about the climate in your own area in recent years? Warmer? Drier? Windier?

4. Paradise had recently voted on a half-cent sales tax, which was intended to go toward public safety and road repairs, among other things. Without it, the leaders of the town feared insolvency. Discuss how poverty affects a town’s ability to handle catastrophes. Is there a scenario in which Paradise could have fared better in the fire?

5. Discuss PG&E’s strategy for preventing fires—cutting off power during high winds, leaving several thousand without electricity. Do the benefits of this outweigh the risks? What other approaches might utility companies take?

6. Paradise addresses the atrocities visited upon the Indigenous tribes of the region, the Konkow band of the Maidu tribe in particular. How do racism and bigotry tie in to today’s climate crisis?

7. PG&E has had multiple safety violations over the years. Why do you suppose companies like this are allowed to continue operating? Do you believe the result of the Camp Fire will change the way they conduct business? Does the public have any recourse in holding them accountable?

8. While Johnson uses her journalistic skills to tell the story of the fire, she also puts a human face on the tragedy through personal narratives of those who experienced the conflagration. What emotions did their stories evoke for you? Did you identify with any of them?

9. Johnson says, “We can all learn something from the Konkows’ knowledge and stewardship of the environment, and their kinship with nature.” What did you learn from the Konkow legend?

10. How might you apply that to your own environment?

11. Do you see mega-fires as “the new normal”? Why or why not? Can towns like Paradise rise again?

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