'Rebuilding Paradise' shows heroism, heartbreak after California Camp Fire: Part 1

The new National Geographic film shows how a community came together following the deadly 2018 wildfire, which killed 85 and destroyed thousands of homes.
6:56 | 08/01/20

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Transcript for 'Rebuilding Paradise' shows heroism, heartbreak after California Camp Fire: Part 1
left -- each other. Will Carr has the story. I have lived here for 30 I love this school. Reporter: The football field holds decades of special memories for Michelle John. We brought the line down around here. And there was screaming. I mean, people were just so excited. There were so many people, it's packed. Reporter: It was here just months after California's deadliest wildfire destroyed much of the town, that the community rallied to honor the graduating seniors. The kids have gone through so much trauma. They lost their schools, friends, teachers. If I could have given them any one little gift, that's the only thing they asked for. Reporter: For so many, it was a moment of healing after so many months of pain. November, 2018. Move, people. Reporter: A campfire exploded in paradise, California. This is bad. All those homes gone. Oh, my god, the tree is burning next to us. Reporter: Smoke blacked out the sky as nearly 30,000 residents tried to evacuate. You can see flames shooting out of the roof of this home. Check out this tree. You have flames shooting hundreds of feet up into the air. The entire community is burned to the ground. Everything is gone. In the days after, search crews scoured through rubble, searching for the missing. As the community grappled with the scope of the loss. How difficult of a search is It's monumental. We've never had something to this extent before. Reporter: Do you think people understand how widespread this damage is? I doubt it. I doubt it. It's gone. It's -- everybody I know lost everything. It's real sad. Reporter: The fire would become the deadliest and most destructive in the state's history. 85 died. Roughly 19,000 homes, businesses, and structures were destroyed. The fire essentially wiped paradise off the map. It will take years to rebuild. November 8:00th, 7:30 A.M., this town started to burn down. Within three hours, it was gone. Reporter: The story of the community chronicled in "Rebuilding paradise" from national geographic. My entire way of life is completely gone. I don't see the town coming back. The hospital is gone. The elementary school is gone. I thought it would get easier, but it's getting harder. Reporter: Charting the heartbreak and heroism as the town rebuilds from the ground up. We're coming back. When I first got to paradise, it was shocking, very disturbing. It's one thing to see images, it's another thing to actually stand there and just sense the pain and recognize the devastation. Not only in what you're seeing, but in people's eyes. Reporter: Director Ron Howard and his team spent more than a year following the community in the aftermath. There was pain everywhere, but also signs of people forgetting about differences and focusing on problem solving and getting things done. And that was inspiring. Reporter: The movie explores the lives of those who chose to stay. Some determined to rebuild. This is mine? Reporter: Like onetime mayor, woody Culleton. Got a paradise permit to build my home. I'm jazzed. I fought with the insurance companies, with the town. I did what I had to do to make it happen as quickly as I possibly could. Awesome, man. Awesome. Let's do it, yeah. You got it, buddy. We're on now. This is the beginning. I never took some time to sit down and grieve about the fire. And that day that we broke ground, that's when it all hit. Yeah. I guess it finally caught up with me. Wow. Yeah, it's a big deal. It is a big deal. Yeah, it's a big deal. Very big. A new beginning. Oh, wow. I didn't know I had all that going on. Funny how it catches you, huh? Yeah, well. This patio right here, this whole thing was just brown dirt up there. Reporter: He and his wife have finished rebuilding. But remnants of the past are never far from their minds. This St. Francis sat right there against the post. In the photograph I have, that's standing there and everything else is gone. When I see the beginning of the movie, it's not just a movie. It's one of the more terrifying days of my life. When you watch the beginning of the movie, where did it take you? I really appreciate what Ron and the editors did in capturing that. That will give anybody who has never experienced that a real sense of the terror. We thought we were going to die. But immediately, it flips you into the hope. A positive from the fire is I understand how fragile life is. Tomorrow is not promised. I wanted audiences to understand what it might feel like. A film like this is all about creating empathy and understanding. And trying to imagine yourself in that circumstance. Reporter: When we come back -- You are the first generation of paradise high school graduates to rise from the ashes of what life was. Reporter: Glimmers of hope. Others unable to return to the life they once had. I've lived through four fires. And it's just not something that I can consider risking with my daughter again. She's doing it again.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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