In less than a week, the catastrophic Camp Fire has become the deadliest wildfire in California history. As of Nov. 12, news outlets were reporting over 40 people have died, more than 7,000 structures have been destroyed, and over 110,000 acres burned. With only 30 percent of the fire contained, and over 200 residents unaccounted for, the death toll is expected to rise.
The fire began in the North Fork Feather River canyon — near the town of Pulga, off Camp Creek Road — on the morning of November 8. Due to high winds and unseasonably dry conditions, the fire quickly spread west to the nearby town of Paradise, which was under evacuation order by 8 a.m. Since that time, authorities report most of the town has been destroyed.
Well-known expedition kayak photographer and long-time C&K contributor Darin McQuoid, a resident of Paradise, posted photos to his social media accounts during the evacuation. Among other things, the photos show the sky in Paradise progressing from a glowing orange around 8 a.m. to pitch black only an hour later. Another photo shows lines of evacuating cars as tall trees burn in the background. Both McQuoid and his partner, Shannamar Dewey, evacuated safely.
Since that time, however, McQuoid has confirmed on social media that their house was destroyed in the fire. A GoFundMe campaign has been started in their name and many gracious donations have been made to help McQuoid and Dewey recover from the loss of their home.
The region surrounding the Camp Fire is well-known to many river-runners. The fire is reported to have started on the northern side of the river canyon, underneath power lines that connect to Poe Dam. This is only a short ways downstream from the takeout for the popular Cresta whitewater run. Along with runs known as Rock Creek, Tobin, and Lobin, these sections of the North Fork are best known as part of the popular Feather Fest. This annual whitewater festival, organized by American Whitewater, happens every September during planned releases from the many small reservoirs and powerhouses in the canyon (see past Feather Fest coverage HERE).
The southern edge of the still-spreading fire has drawn concern from authorities at Oroville Dam and nearby communities. The dam gained national attention during the high-water year of 2017 when the spillway began to partially collapse during flooding, which led to the downstream evacuation of 200,000 residents:
In the coming days, the intensity of the fire will hopefully diminish as winds continue to decrease. However, with little to no rain in the extended forecast, and continuing low humidity, the dry conditions remain a concern. (Find out how to help victims of the Camp Fire through the United Way’s NorCal Disaster Relief Fund.)
As part of his work for C&K, McQuoid has done a great deal to publicize the many paddling opportunities throughout the Feather River watershed and other parts of the high Sierras. His 2015 short film on the South Fork Feather documents a whitewater paddling trip during fall, when Little Grass Valley Reservoir is drawn down in anticipation of winter precipitation.
Other notable works by McQuoid include highlighting the paddling in Sequoia National Park, images from the Summer of Stikine, a first descent on the South Fork Kaweah, Creeking in Corsica, and countless others.
— Read more on how paddlers and Southern California residents have fared in the concurrent Woolsey Fire causing catastrophic damage near Malibu, Calif.
— See more of McQuoid’s Field Tested reviews for C&K — putting camping product to work on paddling trips across the Sierras, including reviews of water filters / jackets / sleeping pads / sleeping bags / river shoes.