THE FLAG: the story of an American Flag that survived the fire to become a symbol of hope

One year after the fire we look back and attempt to find the story behind the image of the flag.

Posted: Nov 8, 2019 9:42 AM
Updated: Apr 27, 2021 2:20 PM

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - This is the story of one flag that became a symbol of hope when it looked like all was lost the day after the Camp Fire.

I was on a street like many others in the town of Paradise littered with downed powerlines.

I ducked under a power line and looked up and there it was, a flag waving in the wind that looked like it had been put yesterday.

Shortly after I saw it, I snapped the now-viral picture and quickly hundreds of thousands begin to like and share it.

I never knew the story behind that flag, or whose home it was in front of, so I decided to find out.

The only way I knew where the picture was taken was through the GPS on my phone so armed with only that I started driving to Paradise.

When I came to the street that I had taken the flag picture I found nothing left.

The lots had been cleared and the wreckage was gone, only the sound of the wind remained.

Discouraged I got back into my car and drove to regroup. Shortly after though I was flagged down by someone driving past me.

That person turned out to be Jamie Johnston who wanted to ask me about our coverage of the town.

Johnston and I begin talking and come to find out she knew exactly who I was looking for.

“You have been looking for my neighbor on my street but you didn’t know who he was and it’s the guy that had the standing flag right after the fire and that picture went viral all over the place,” Johnston said. “But you didn’t know who it was.”

This was it, the lead I was looking for.

So she was gracious enough to take me back to the street and on the way call Gerry the owner of the flag, who once we got there was excited to share his story.

“It was on your newscast for a month or more… when the lady was reading the news… and my wife said it’s our flag! And I said no it's not and she said yes it is! And I looked and I said Jehovah…”

Gerry and Joice Mclean like thousands of others were residents of the town of Paradise when the Camp Fire hit but it was their flag that became a symbol of the fire.

The couple was in awe of how far the flag picture went, even if they helped it out themselves “that picture made it all the way to nova scotia,” Gerry noted. “Canada I am a Canadian flag and that flag I sent a picture to my brothers down there and it made it down there and I don’t know where else it made it but it was around.”

While the couple’s home was destroyed they have just received a new one and are well on their way to settling into their home in Paradise.

And yes they did, of course, keep the flag, Gerry said, “it’s distinguishable like it didn’t even burn the edges but it’s smoke damaged and you could tell it’s been beaten up.”

Every day we pass American flags waving a symbol of the United States while this flag may now stand for something more for Gerry it will always be a reminder of the love of his country.

“Well, I put it up basically because I think everyone should have one,” Gerry said. “It’s saying that this is our country this is our home why not have it.”

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The fog tucked us in last night, leaving for some surreal driving conditions on the roads. We see the potential for a repeat situation this evening for the valley.
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