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5 years after California’s deadliest wildfire, survivors forge different paths toward recovery

by Ethan Kim
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Wildfire Recovery

Five years after the devastating Camp Fire in Paradise, California, survivors are taking different paths toward recovery. On that fateful day in 2018, Gwen Nordgren, the president of the Paradise Lutheran Church council, helped rescue a young woman as the town was consumed by flames. The community’s resilience and struggles have defined their journey since then.

For some, like Gwen Nordgren, they are sharing their stories and helping rebuild Paradise. Others, like Shari Bernacette, continue to be haunted by memories of the fire, leading them to relocate and start anew elsewhere.

Paradise, once a densely forested town, has undergone significant changes. Its population has shrunk to less than half its pre-fire size, and while some homes have been rebuilt, many mobile home parks remain closed. Residents who can’t afford to return face the heartbreaking reality of not being able to go back home.

Paradise Mayor Greg Bolin envisions a brighter future, with plans to bury overhead power lines and repave public roads by 2026. However, the trauma of that fateful day still lingers, triggered by the slightest hint of smoke in the air.

Wildfires have become more severe in California due to climate change, with the Camp Fire marking a turning point. Utility companies are now proactively shutting off power during high-risk conditions, and property insurance rates have soared or become inaccessible in wildfire-prone areas. The community is adapting to this new reality, but the scars run deep.

Coping with grief and trauma has become a shared experience in Paradise. Local theater and faith have provided solace for some, helping them find meaning and healing in their lives. Businesses are gradually returning to the town, bringing hope for economic recovery.

Nicki Jones, a longtime resident, opened a restaurant called Nic’s, becoming one of the first new businesses in Paradise post-fire. Her resilience and determination reflect the community’s spirit to rebuild.

Newcomers, like Adam Thompson and his family, are finding acceptance and a sense of community in Paradise, despite the shared tragedy that defines the town. The once-retirement-focused community is evolving, with new families and a growing Little League.

Despite the profound changes and losses, individuals like Don Criswell are determined to make Paradise a beautiful and vibrant place once again. He remains committed to the town, planting trees, tending to his garden, and playing the piano for the community.

In the face of immense challenges, Paradise is on a path to recovery, a testament to the strength, resilience, and unity of its residents.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wildfire Recovery

What was the Camp Fire in Paradise, California?

The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, occurring on November 8, 2018, in Paradise, California.

How has the Paradise community been coping with the aftermath of the fire?

Survivors in Paradise have taken various paths toward recovery. Some have returned to help rebuild the town, while others have relocated due to ongoing trauma.

What changes has Paradise undergone since the fire?

Paradise’s population has significantly decreased, and while some homes have been rebuilt, many mobile home parks remain closed. The town’s infrastructure is also being upgraded for safety.

How has climate change impacted wildfires in California?

Climate change has led to hotter, drier summers, making wildfires more severe. The Camp Fire marked a turning point in wildfire prevention and management in the state.

What are the challenges faced by survivors, especially in terms of insurance and power outages?

Survivors are grappling with soaring insurance rates or the unavailability of coverage in wildfire-prone areas. Utility companies have been shutting off power during high-risk conditions.

How are survivors finding ways to cope with their grief and trauma?

Some individuals have found solace in the local theater and faith, helping them heal and find meaning in their lives.

What is the outlook for businesses and newcomers in Paradise?

Businesses are gradually returning to Paradise, offering hope for economic recovery. Newcomers are finding acceptance and community in the town despite the shared tragedy.

How is Paradise evolving as a community post-fire?

Paradise, once primarily a retirement community, is now experiencing a transformation with the arrival of new families and growth in activities like Little League baseball.

What is the long-term vision for Paradise’s recovery?

Paradise’s recovery includes burying power lines and repaving roads, with a focus on making the town safer and more resilient in the face of future challenges.

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