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Happy Camp, California to Crescent City, California Via Destruction -- The Unavailability Bias

Crescent City, California

Shoreline RV Park ($33/night including tax, water and electric)

June 10, 2021

I need to stop experiencing so much each day because writing it all down is exhausting me. But I wouldn't have it any other way!

I crossed the bridge this morning leaving Happy Camp. Figuratively. I drove through 30 miles (I'm guessing) of wildfire destruction. I have never seen anything like it. I cried I was so overwhelmed. Piles of rubbish where houses used to be. Burned out vehicles, their skeletons colored black by the heat of the fire. Blackened trees still standing somehow while other trees have fallen and look like Pick Up The Sticks scattered over miles and miles and miles. The road climbed to nearly 4,000 feet and I could see for miles -- but I should not have been able to. Before the fire, I am sure the drive along Forest Road 48 was under a canopy of majestic green. There were a number of crews out surveying properties; logging trucks removing trees and dump trucks removing debris. Now I understand why I saw so many logging trucks and dump trucks in Happy Camp the other day. What really hit me hard were the trailers and tents at some of the properties -- I assume they were now home for many of the people displaced by the fire.

It occurred to me that I must have heard about the Slater Fire on the news but it made no impression on me. Another wildfire in California fought by incredibly brave fire fighters. People died, homes destroyed -- onto the next story. I came up with the term "unavailability bias" to try to explain to myself why the news did not hit me hard -- real hard. I decided I had no reference point, no experience to give me a perspective on the vastness and depth of the destruction. I do now.

I thought how economists would likely say those folks should not rebuild, there is too much risk of another wildfire. The people should move to a safer environment. And how wrong they would be in many cases. Happy Camp is their home, where their memories are. Where their families (including perhaps multiple generations) and friends live. They have little in the way of wherewithal -- they can't afford to leave.

As I drove out of the devastation, I said a prayer for all of those affected.

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