The sound of wind is rarely as sinister as it is at the beginning of “Rebuilding Paradise,” Ron Howard’s harrowing and heartrending new documentary. The loud, 40-mph gusts we hear are a grim omen, and they soon merge with other noises — anxious radio chatter, screaming sirens, the crackle of flames, the pop-pop of exploding tires — to form a chorus of fast-mounting dread. Through it all we hear a succession of human voices, trying to remain steady but finally abandoning any pretense of calm: “Please, we need your help, Lord,” a woman prays. “I’m scared,” another sobs. “I’m scared.”
You will share her fear. These opening moments return us to Nov. 8, 2018, the day the Camp fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history, destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise. The on-the-ground footage we see is as awful as what we hear: As flames lick at driveways and engulf crumbling buildings, as embers rain down on fleeing vehicles, we seem trapped in a conflagration so mighty and all-consuming that the entire world has turned black and orange.