5 Years Later, Nate Smith Remembers The Paradise Fire

By kncitom on November 9, 2023
Nate Smith and Cody backstage at Country in the Park 2022. Photo: Tom Mailey/KNCI Radio

On Thursday, November 8th, past and present residents of the town of Paradise CA gathered in a community park to remember the terrible day 5 years ago when the Camp Fire broke out. Before it was done, the wind-fueled inferno destroyed over 18,000 structures and killed 85 people. In terms of lives lost and property destroyed, it’s the worst fire in state history. There were 85 seconds of silence to remember the victims. 

Not present physically, but definitely in spirit, was former Paradise resident Nate Smith. 5 years ago, Nate was working in Chico at Enloe Hospital as a nurses aid, playing music on the side and living in an apartment on the edge of Paradise, which had been his home since his parents moved there in 7th grade. The morning of the fire though, he wasn’t there.

“I should’ve been sleeping that morning” he said, noting that he worked overnights in the hospital’s ICU. But, he had a doctor’s appointment in Chico, down in the valley about 30 miles west. 

“I was just talking to my brother about it”, he told us in a call the morning of November 8th “And if I wasn’t able to get out…he would’ve come and broke my window and come and got me”. 

As it was, Nate couldn’t get back up to Paradise and it wasn’t until later he learned that, like nearly everyone else in that town, he lost everything. And we asked him, had that horrible fire not happened, and had life continued normally for Nate, would he ever have pursued his Nashville dream, which now includes a #1 song (Whiskey on You) and another making it’s way to the top (World On Fire).

“I wouldn’t have, no. I had a deep desire in there, you know (but), I mean, I was happy taking care of patients at Enloe. I loved working in the ICU and trauma, and just trying to brighten people’s days. I was content and happy doing that.” 

To process what he and the town he loved had just been through, Nate turned to his first love. Music. He wrote a song called One Of These Days, and it started getting him some attention. With nothing left to lose and a resiliency that reflected the rugged little foothill town he was from, Nate decided to bet on himself and go to Nashville after all. 

Nate, outside the remains of his apartment last year, in Nov of 2022

The normal life he led up until that awful day 5 years ago has helped Nate stay grounded- maybe even more so that some artists for whom becoming successful was a goal from very, very early on. Back then, he said, “All I wanted was to have an apartment and a brand new Honda Civic and have as much mac and cheese as I could, you know.” he told us, laughing. It’s those memories keep him grounded as he inevitably becomes more recognized. “It’s fun, you know? You get to say hi to people. It’s a good sign when people recognize you because you know that the music’s touching them. I never, never, never mind it.”

Before we started the interview, Nate told us he still follows what’s going on in Paradise, and has been impressed – as we all are – at the community’s toughness and heart. He even closed our conversation with a proud “Paradise strong” before hanging up. He had to get ready for that night’s CMA Awards, which he would be attending as a full-blown member now of the country music community. He never got that Honda Civic. He now drives an all-black Rogue. He says he wants a pickup but “I’m terrible at parking”.  

People are resilient. We adapt, but with any luck, we also retain a spirit of who we really are. Whatever the new Paradise will look like when it’s all said and done, it will be different, but it will also retain the spirit of the town it was before. And wherever Nate Smith goes, as his star continues to rise (he plays an already sold-out show at Ace of Spades February 17th), he too will retain the spirit of the town he was raised in, and will continue to be inspired by its resiliency for as long as his career goes on. 

Click below to hear our full chat with Nate. 


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