PARADISE, Calif. — Crafted from the keys of churches, firefighters, and even the 85 victims of the Camp Fire, Jessie Mercer’s Key Phoenix – a rendition of the mythical fire bird that rises from the ashes – is an image of moving forward from tragedy and loss.

Mercer is a Chico artist. She unveiled her project during an emotional ceremony in Paradise on Friday, exactly one year after the Camp Fire devastated the lives of thousands. 

Mercer said she always knew the sculpture was going to be a phoenix. She said that she wanted to use art to create a vessel for hope by giving an image of moving forward from tragedy, sorrow and loss. 

“I finished [the sculpture] last Saturday. I started two days after the fire,” Mercer said, as her voice broke with emotions. 

She added that gathering the keys from victims was the “most emotional experience of my life. I have the keys to the deceased. I have keys to church. I have keys to firemen. It’s overwhelming. My parents’ keys are on there.”

Jessie mercer

Chico artist Jessie Mercer stands next to her statue that depicts a phoenix, which was made from the keys of the victims of the Camp Fire.

Carlos Herrera


Mercer drove 19,000 miles to collect all the keys after putting collection jars in 13 different places across five different cities. 

With letters pouring out of her mailbox, it made her take a moment to think about the magnitude of what she was doing.  

Mercer said she only did two things: put metal together and follow her heart.

The mayor of Paradise awarded Mercer with the key to the city during the sculpture unveiling.


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WATCH MORE: Camp Fire: One Year Later | Full documentary 

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