Losing a Makerspace in the Paradise Wildfire

Maker News
Losing a Makerspace in the Paradise Wildfire

Northern California’s deadly Camp Fire raged through the town of Paradise on November 8, 2018. It burned nearly all of the area known by locals at The Ridge. As of November 19, Cal Fire reports that 77 people died in the fire, the largest in state history, and that 11,713 residences, 472 commercial and 3,388 other buildings were destroyed. Among those who lost both a home and a business was Pamela Teeter who opened “A Maker’s Space” in 2014.

On November 7, Pamela had sent out her first newsletter for “A Maker’s Space”, promoting it on Facebook. She said that doing a newsletter had been something she intended to do for a long time and she thanked “everyone that has helped create the space.” Her next post was November 10th, two days after the fire, her next Facebook said that her space “was no longer a place for creative exploration.” The photo she published showed the complete destruction of the building.

Here is a similar photo of her space from Cal Fire:

Those who commented on Facebook were heartbroken by the loss and what it meant to the community. Mickey Rich, also from Paradise and who had organized Girls Who Code meetings at the space, wrote that out of all the photos she had seen that “THIS is the only one that has made me shed a tear.” She added that “A Maker’s Space” had “facilitated creativity AND bravery. The things created there ARE NOT GONE because they helped build beautiful people who will create and take risks tomorrow and forever.”

We reached out to Pamela Teeter to learn more about her and her space and what happened on Paradise Ridge on November 8.

Starting A Maker’s Space

Pamela Teeter saw herself as a creative person. “My mother fostered it,” she said. “My dad was in construction. I grew up around tools and people who built things.” She had lived in the Bay Area and had been to Maker Faire. However, she felt that the Ridge lacked opportunities for children. “There weren’t enough opportunities for children to be exposed to creative play,” she said. She wanted to provide to the Ridge and to her two daughters the experiences that she knew were available in more metropolitan areas. “I just wanted to make sure the kids here weren’t left out.”

Pamela had moved to Paradise Ridge in 2007. Her grandparents had a history of living in the town. Her husband, Doug, is a Butte County Supervisor. He had been a Mechanical Engineer and worked in Mountain View before moving back to where he grew up. Douglas and Pamela were living in a home built on the Ridge by Doug’s grandparents.

With her husband, she started looking for a place where kids could be creative. In 2011, she found a building and they purchased it. It took a couple years to get the place where she wanted it before finally opening up her makerspace. She knew a lot about Arts and Crafts but she also saw the need to have STEM activities for kids. She met someone who told her that he could teach tech. They started with 3D printing, then robotics and coding classes. Eventually, she offered STEAM programs for local kids, including school groups who came by on field trips. She also ran summer camps. “I don’t have much knowledge of anything,” she said. “But I am a good facilitator.”

Photos from Facebook.

A Maker’s Place offered free family workshops and a Jr Makers Club program. The makerspace regularly welcomed school groups. In October, the 3rd Grade from Achieve Charter School visited and made dream-catchers and worked on mini-looms. The Paradise Charter Middle School came by and participated in a Rube Goldberg competition. A Maker’s Space hosted The Panda Programmers, the first Vex Robotics Team on the Ridge. “The team was on their way to winning the regional league,” Pamela recalled. “There was only one more competition left in December.”

Last March, a grateful person left the following comment on Facebook: “The efforts that Pamela and her family are making to bring S.T.E.A.M. to the Ridge is awesome. This company is already great and will just grow into an amazing asset for the Ridge.”

“It happened so fast”

Pamela described what happened to her and her family on the morning of November 8th.

“I just dropped my girls off at school, which is in the middle of town. A minute later I got the evacuation order.” She explained that it was common to get evacuation orders for fires in a place surrounded by trees and canyons. Usually they were called off in a couple of hours. She thought she had more time than she did. So, she headed home.

“I went home with intention to pack and get the dog.” She didn’t have any problems driving back home. Her husband was still home and they spent the next 30 minutes packing up the car. By the time Pamela pulled out from her street, it was “midnight black at 8:45 am.” The fire was not very far away, and flying embers had started spot fires all around.

She immediately was stuck in traffic. Two of three roads off the Ridge were already closed due to fire and there were over 26,000 people trying to escape down the remaining exits. It took her over an hour to reach her girls’ school, something that normally takes 5 minutes.

“The terrifying thing was I didn’t know how my girls were, “ she said. The phones were down.

Doug had left the house about the same time but he stopped to talk to a neighbor who was refusing to evacuate. He told him to leave now. Not long after Doug got back in his car, he was trapped by flames. Being stuck in traffic, he made the decision to abandon his car and try to make it back to his home to get his motorcycle. As he approached his house, the house his grandparents built, and he saw that it was in flames. He soon realized his mistake and hopped in a stranger’s vehicle. That stranger happened to be Cal Fire worker in his personal truck trying to evacuate too.

Fire was everywhere and they knew that they couldn’t stay on the road where cars were catching on fire (later, they would find the remains of people who died in their cars trying to escape). Doug remembered a large field nearby and they drove out into it. Both he and the Cal Fire worker got out of the truck to direct more cars into the field. They got back into the truck and waited for the fire to blow over them.

Pamela finally arrived at her girls’ school only to find it abandoned. Fortunately a groundskeeper had remained behind to notify any parents looking for their children to let them know they were already evacuated down to Chico. From the school, it took another hour to get down the hill. “I felt like I was on an action-movie set, escaping the fire,” she said. Telephone poles were falling down on the roads, fires were whipping in the wind all around.

“I made it to Chico and found my girls but I hadn’t heard from my husband.” Then she got a call from him and he was still up on the Ridge. “Doug was having an extremely harrowing time,” she said.

Doug and others were rescued by a bulldozer that moved abandoned cars out of the way and clear a path to the hospital where there were still some patients needing to be evacuated. Sheriff’s deputies arrived to rescue him and the patients. It was over four hours before he was out. And then he immediately got to work as a public official. Pamela was relieved that her husband, two girls and dog were safe. She was grateful that her girls did not drive through the fires on their way to Chico. Later, the Teeter family went to stay at her parent’s house not far away in Orland.

By the end of the day, she knew that she had lost her home, as had many others. She also knew that most of Paradise had burned down. It was a few days before she knew for sure that “A Maker’s Place” had burned down as well. Doug, as an elected official, has been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster. Last Saturday, he met President Trump who toured the devastated area.

The Future

We asked Pamela about the future of A Maker’s Space, a question that was perhaps too soon to be asked. She said: “Well, I have insurance.” Then she sighed. “I’m struggling with it. My husband and I are trying to… ” She stopped and then resumed. “Our community was so ravaged and it’s going to take years before any sense of community returns. Our kids don’t have schools. We don’t even know how many people will stay.” She paused and took a deep breath, with conflicting ideas running through her head.

She loved seeing the comments on Facebook, especially Mickey’s comment about fostering “creativity AND bravery” in children. She understood the impact that her makerspace had on the lives of young people. She also knew how much of herself she had put into “A Maker’s Space” and now it was gone.

“The kids still need it,” she said. “We will get back to the Ridge and rebuild. My husband and I will definitely go back. We want to be part of the community.”

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty