BERRY CREEK, Calif. - The Bear fire was burning in the mountains of Butte County, devouring acres of land and belching out black smoke as it inched toward Berry Creek and other communities in the area.
More than 40 miles away in Chico, Carin Dorghalli had trouble sleeping. The 26-year-old journalist had been covering the fire for the Chico Enterprise-Record. While in the field, she managed to check up on the family business - the Village Market.
It was the only gas station and convenience store in the area. Her father had purchased it 2006 and marked his financial success as an immigrant from Syria. For residents, the store was a lifeline and a community gathering spot, especially after the 2018 fire disaster in nearby Paradise, when the Village Market was one of the few stores that stayed open.
But when Dorghalli arrived at the store in the early hours of Sept. 10, she found the store leveled and smoldering. The fire had swept through the area, consuming cars, homes and trees. Ash and embers fell from the sky as if it were snowing. Dorghalli said she couldn't help but cry.
Two years ago, "my dad and cousin did everything they could to keep it open," Dorghalli recalled. Now the fate of the family business was far from certain, as was the future of Berry Creek.
California fires have destroyed thousands of homes this year, but they've also taken numerous small businesses, many of them lifelines for rural communities. Many more are at risk amid what could become California's worst fire season ever.
A firestorm moved through this hamlet and Butte County a week ago. killing at least 15 people and destroying more than 720 structures, including two schools. In this remote region, it was the market that bought people together and has raised hopes that, if rebuilt, it could be a focal point for recovery.
As of Tuesday evening, the North Complex fire had burned more than 270,000 acres and was 34% contained. While scores of West Coast fires are burning from California to British Columbia, the conflagrations in Butte County have been the deadliest, although not the largest.
The state's biggest fire is the August Complex, which by Tuesday had burned more than 790,000 acres in Northern California's coastal range. Far to the south, the Bobcat fire in the Angeles National Forest was much smaller, at 36,000 acres, but was threatening the Mount Wilson Observatory and adding to plumes of smoke fouling the Los Angeles basin.
In Berry Creek, longtime residents lamented the loss of the Village Market, curious if the family would rebuild or not.