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New Mexico replaces California as McConaughey stars in film about a deadly 2018 wildfire

New Mexico replaces California in a new film as Jamie Lee Curtis’ production company tells the story of a bus driver and a school teacher who save students during the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – New Mexico replaces California in a new film as Jamie Lee Curtis’ production company and others tell the story of a bus driver and a school teacher who save students during the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

The 2018 fire killed 85 people and nearly wiped out the community of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Some residents have returned to help create something new, while others are still haunted by their memories.

Curtis was among those celebrating the five-year anniversary in November when she posted on social media about the people of Paradise experiencing an unimaginable inferno and speaking of the courage of the residents and the heroes who adapted and responded.

She said at the time that she was proud to produce a film based on the stories in Lizzie Johnson’s novel, “Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire.”

“The Lost Bus” was a project that began in 2022. Now filming is underway in and around Santa Fe en Española and in Ruidoso, a mountainous area in southern New Mexico that has also seen many wildfires – including a deadly blaze in 2022, which was sparked by a downed power line.

From California to New Mexico and other parts of the West, wildfires have become more volatile amid drier and hotter conditions that have been exacerbated by the effects of climate change. So far this year, more than 2,500 square miles (7,283 square kilometers) have burned — more than double the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The film stars Matthew McConaughey and America Ferrera under the direction of Paul Greengrass. Emmy Award winner Brad Ingelsby, Greg Goodman and Jason Blum’s production company Blumhouse will produce the film along with Curtis’ Comet Pictures.

“The Lost Bus” will focus on bus driver Kevin McKay and teacher Mary Ludwig, who helped guide a bus full of children through the deadly wildfire.

In a 2018 interview, Marc Kessler, a high school science teacher in the Paradise Unified School District, told The Associated Press that he arrived at work early Thursday morning and saw plumes of smoke that quickly grew uncomfortably close.

Teachers, aides and bus drivers loaded more than 100 students into cars and school buses as the fast-moving wildfire approached, Kessler said. They drove for hours through smoke and flames to safely reunite the children with their families.

In McKay’s case, he responded to an emergency call and picked up 22 students from Ponderosa Elementary School as the flames approached. Ludwig and fellow teacher Abbie Davis helped comfort the children.

Curtis said in a 2022 interview with Deadline that as a lifelong California resident, she watched with deep sadness as the raging fire consumed Paradise. She had said she wanted to adapt the stories in Johnson’s novel into a film that would explore the human elements, tragedies and courage that emerged from the wildfire.

According to the New Mexico Film Office, the production will employ 480 New Mexico crew members and 2,100 extras.