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Remembering Greenville, A 'Quirky' California Town Devastated By The Dixie Fire


It's hard to measure the things that vanish when a fire sweeps through a town - homes, the mementos inside of them, places that have held memories for generations. Here's how reporter Margaret Elysia Garcia, who writes under her married name, Meg Upton, described the experience in Plumas News, quote, "my defiantly quirky, beautiful, adopted hometown turned into a ghost town last night." That's the beginning of her eulogy for the town of Greenville in Northern California. It was largely destroyed by the Dixie Fire this week. Margaret Alicia Garcia, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And I'm sorry for your loss.


SHAPIRO: First, tell us how you and your family are doing. I know it's been a huge week.

GARCIA: It's been stressful. And for - most people outside Greenville are talking about it as a week, but the fire is not out. It's only 35% contained. And we've been living with this for 24 days. So it's almost a month. And before August 4, it was waiting for destruction and now we've had it.

SHAPIRO: In the eulogy that you wrote, you describe Greenville as an island of misfit toys. Can you tell us about that?

GARCIA: (Laughter) Yeah. So we're quirky. First of all, Northeastern California has a - is sometimes known as the Deep North, where we are definitely in red country, as it were. But in Greenville, it doesn't play out that way. The island of misfit toys comes from - we come from all walks of life. We found our way to the mountains. There's a lot of us from Southern California, from the Bay Area. And we live side by side, you know, hippies, ranchers, self-proclaimed rednecks. I'm not saying that pejoratively. That's a self-identifier for people. And we just all make this beautiful place our home. And I've been up there 19 years. My mother's been up there 20.

SHAPIRO: So when you first describe Greenville to somebody who's never been there, like, what's the thing you mention first?

GARCIA: Well, just the hillside that unfortunately burned is just gorgeous. It's very dramatic. In Plumas County, it's beautiful overall. It's called the Lost Sierra for a reason. It's just this gorgeous bit of mountain and forest. But it's - the hillside comes up from the valley floor. And you feel like you just, you know, stepped into an entirely different world.

SHAPIRO: One line of the eulogy you wrote that jumped out at me was we were recent survivors of Paradise, too. The Town of Paradise was decimated by the Camp Fire in 2018. You know people who lived through both?

GARCIA: Yeah, the property the my husband and I were developing, we got to know the people who just bought the lot right below us. And they had survived the Camp Fire. And so they were buying up here, feeling like it was a more secure area. And they're not alone. Greenville actually had an influx of people after the Camp Fire.

SHAPIRO: And now you write the bulk of Greenville is gone. Do you think it can be rebuilt? Do you think it should be?

GARCIA: That is a good question. I talked a lot to people over the last couple of days, and one of the things going on is - for the downtown that was burnt, there's a lot of families there that are extended families. So we're not talking about one family losing a house. We're talking about one family, their grandfather's house, their grandmother's house, their cousin's house. They're all gone. And so where normally you would lean on, you know, the one person in your family whose house was saved, like, there's no one to lean on. So in that respect, I don't know how we survived that. That's a hard thing to come back from. Also, since the Paradise Fire, a lot of people who had fire insurance have had it canceled.

SHAPIRO: Which makes it harder to rebuild.

GARCIA: Makes it a lot harder to rebuild. So I imagine what's going to happen is the people who didn't have insurance are not going to be back.

SHAPIRO: That's Margaret Elysia Garcia, a reporter from Greenville, Calif., speaking with us from Southern California about the destruction in her hometown after the Dixie Fire. Thank you so much.

GARCIA: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.