On November 18, 2018, the tragic news of the Camp Fire destruction in Paradise shook the entire news media. Within six hours of the reported incident, the fire burned down 95% of the town’s infrastructures, eventually also taking the lives of at least 85 people. A total of 19,000 buildings, along with 14,000 reported houses, got engulfed by the blaze. After two years, only a small portion of the town got restored to its better state.
Brooks, the leader of the nonprofit organization Rebuild Paradise Foundation, sadly looks back at the town he lived in since 2004. The terrifying destruction traumatized him. According to Brooks, he will readily jump out of his window and into the pool if a similar tragedy occurs once more.
“You can’t live in the wildland-urban interface anywhere in California now and not expect there to be a risk,” Brooks said. To him, Brooks believes that fire prevention procedures will make future disasters smaller in scale and treats Paradise as “a safer community.”
As the mastermind of the Rebuild Paradise Foundation, Brooks hopes to rebuild his house after he lost his previous one to one of California’s deadly fires in 2018. Currently, he is temporarily residing in Chico but plans to return to Paradise with his family once they reached completion of the project.
The company Pacific Gas and Electronic Co. was the culprit of the whole devastation. The corporation pleaded guilty to 85 felony charges, including 84 involuntary manslaughter counts this year. PG&E secured itself from liquidation by filing bankruptcy protection several months after the Camp Fire incident. The company arrived at a $13.5 billion settlement with the fire victims as compensation for their losses. They will give the first portion of the capital as early as Thanksgiving of this year 2020.
During the blazing destruction, the Camp Fire’s insane speed confined the town residents with few evacuation options. Additionally, the fire made the residents question the safety of living somewhere in California, emphasizing the devastating effects of climate change on deadly fires occurring in different parts of the world. In response to these serious concerns, state and local administrators proposed more fire-resistant building requirements and lower high-risk owners’ house taxes.
The citizens left in Paradise dream to revive the community by beginning the reconstruction of its destroyed infrastructures by using both available means and strong motivation. However, others left the town due to the trauma induced by the incident or lack of funds to stay. Many of the remaining residents are still at a loss of what to do next.
Recently, a total of 440 single-family houses and 70 units in multi-family properties got restored, as it only lost a small portion from the fire. Roughly 500 families are currently residing in RVs on burned infrastructures. As of the present, an estimated number of 5,000 people live in Paradise, which once housed over 27,000 citizens.
The current coronavirus outbreak made Paradise’s situation more stagnant than before. The trauma faced by the residents from the two-year tragedy resurfaced as a massive North Complex blaze surged toward the town in September. Some Paradise residents are unsure of handling the fear of possible deadly fires, especially now that the probability of it happening again every season became higher.
Paradise is now a mix of progress and reminders of wreckage after the two-year fire incident. Due to a lack of funding and the ongoing pandemic, renovations are going at a sluggish pace. Other residents haven’t rebuilt anything yet, leaving them to wonder if it’s still plausible to do so.
“We’re trying very, very hard to rebuild,” Paradise resident Karen Gowins said. “But with all things going on, it’s been the most horrible nightmare,” she added.
For many Paradise residents, the fire season heightened their trauma from the tragedy and raised more questions on whether to stay or leave the town entirely.