One year ago today, the Camp Fire broke out in the forested hills east of Concow and Paradise, California — a fire so ferocious and uncontrollable that it would ultimately level both communities, take 85 lives, and continue burning for 17 days.
It stands as the most destructive and deadly fire in California history, having destroyed over 18,000 buildings and burned over 153,000 acres. (By contrast, the Kincade Fire, which reached full containment this week, burned half that acreage but destroyed only 374 structures, and caused no fatalities.) And marking the anniversary the local media has published dozens of stories checking back in on the survivors and the rebuilding effort. Below, a selection.
- The Sacramento Bee followed survivor Bunny Keterman back to the site of her burned home early Friday morning. Keterman, a 53-year-old social worker, has relocated to Sacramento and says she still has PTSD from the morning of the fire and her escape with her cat. She returned today to mourn the loss of her house, and to say, "Fuck you, universe. Thank you, universe. I love you, universe." After the ritual she reportedly felt "unburdened" and happier.
- The Associated Press looked in on Victoria Sinclaire, who says that after the Camp Fire destroyed her family's home there was "no way in hell" she planned to return to Paradise. But she says she had an "epiphany" after returning to see the ruins of the home a few weeks later. "It was just like, ‘This is home,’ and then the thought of living anyplace else seemed impossible," she said. Rescue groups found her two cats, who went missing when the fire hit, and Sinclaire was one of the first to start rebuilding this year after the site of her home was cleaned up.
- The SF Chronicle visited with Jerry and Patty Wilson, whose new home is currently under construction while they reside in a mobile home on the property. The Wilsons lost their original home, Patty's childhood home, in December 2015 to an electrical fire. They then watched a rental home go up in flames in the Saddle Fire along the Feather River in Butte County in September 2016. Two years and two months later they lost a third home in the Camp Fire, and Jerry tells the Chronicle, "It’s like deja vu. We see the past and present at once in this house. But it’s just part of life, I guess. You do what you have to do."
- The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat talks to Amber Blood, one of an estimated 20,000 Camp Fire survivors who have relocated to Chico and haven't left. Blood bought a new home in Chico, which she says is "beautiful," but she adds, "I don't even feel like it is my home. It's weird." The piece goes on to detail how Chico has been impacted by the sudden increase of population, which is straining everything from police services to the city sewer system.
- The Chronicle also catches up with 76-year-old Lon Walker, whose wife of 30 years Ellen perished in the fire in their home in Concow. Lon was out of town the day of the fire — he works as a trucker. And there's a mystery surrounding Ellen Walker's death, which is that after her remains were recovered, investigators found a second set of remains intermingled with hers, which were apparently male. No men were reported missing in the area, and no DNA match has been made for this last, unidentified victim, who some have surmised may have been a hero who ran out of the woods and tried to come to Mrs. Walker's rescue. One theory is that the man was a worker at an illegal marijuana grow in the nearby woods, and somehow ended up at the home that morning as the flames approached.
- KQED talks to the Hornback family, a multi-generational family of 11 that lost four homes in the Camp Fire. The family pooled their resources to buy one big house on the outskirts of Paradise, where they moved in February. And now they live under one roof — two grandparents, two kids, their spouses, four grandchildren, and their daughter-in-law's mother. "We were empty nesters and now we're one huge family," says Lori Hornback. Their story highlights the overall shortage of housing in the region following the fire.
- And, finally, KRCR visits Alyssa Nolan, who started a non-profit building tiny houses for Camp Fire victims in Oroville. She's received donations to build 25 houses, and she uses volunteer labor to help construct them. She has over 500 more people on a waiting list for a house.