So very smoky up here today, with a red sun! It has been nearly two years since the Camp Fire overran and destroyed the town of Paradise. Our community abuts the town’s western border. Last year’s fire season wasn’t bad, with a lot of late rain and cooler temperatures. This year we hit a patch of triple-digit temperatures a week ago that is persisting (105 F./40 C. and above). On top of that, a mostly dry lightning storm blew through a few days ago. 1,500 strikes were counted in our northern counties, sparking many fires.
Thankfully, we have just one big fire here in Butte County – currently at 900 acres. I know the area burning and it is lightly inhabited, and confined to a series of canyons. I sent the UAV up after sunset last night to look for any smoke or flame nearby, and it was clear. The local sky still has a lot of smoke in it, though not near the ground. There are six major fires in the counties around us, but no immediate issues here.
We installed an automatic backup generator after our big fire and it hasn’t yet run this year. Our cleared perimeter is larger than it used to be, having lost most of our tall trees in the back. As a result of the fire we have two active fire safety programs in our community, clearing dead trees and brush out of the common areas, ongoing. Calfire also inspects us once a year. Last, there is a big Calfire airbase at the Chico airport fifteen miles west of us, in the valley.
The town of Paradise is still burned up. When we go to our one local supermarket five miles away, we drive along mostly empty roads flanked by devastation. Concrete slabs and weeds where houses and businesses stood. Many of the business signs survived though, standing proudly and colorfully outside empty lots; MacDonald’s, Thrifty Car Wash, Safeway, Ridge Shopping Center… it is surreal.
The town’s primary water system has been restored and decontaminated. The electricity is on too. Some building is happening, with about 500 new homes being built, though these are few and far between. The cost for new residential construction is now $300 per square foot, pricing many out.
The current population of Paradise is roughly 2,000 people, down from 27,000 before the fire, with an additional 25,000 displaced from the surrounding area. 19,000 structures burned in the town, and 85 dear souls lost their lives. The one area left pristine in the middle of town during the firestorm was the cemetery, with no trees or lawns catching fire.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers promised to us for temporary shelter by the Federal Government never arrived. Everyone was left to largely fend for themselves after the fire, with limited local assistance, and a lot of community support. Although Northern California tends to be politically conservative, we were punished for the state in general not voting for the current President. What a sin. Some are squatting on their lots now in RVs, with the Town of Paradise trying to force them to get building permits. Most survivors have moved away, and will not return.
Though fire is always a concern here, the natural beauty and access to nature is a treasure. One silver lining to the horrific fire one year and nine-plus months ago is that the wildlife is coming back, and the skies are clearer than they were. I heard our small pack of coyotes yipping and howling near dawn this morning before so much smoke blew in, using different voices than they do at sunset, higher and quicker, more excited, vs. the longer almost mournful tones heard in the evening.