After the town of Paradise, California largely burnt to the ground in November 2018, its residents moved, in some cases, halfway or all the way across the country. In the case of about half the residents, they've stayed in the vicinity of Chico and Oroville, and may be hoping to move back to Paradise eventually.
KQED spoke this week with Peter Hansen, an IT consultant in the Geography and Planning Department at California State University at Chico. Hansen has been studying change-of-address data for Paradise's roughly 26,000 residents, and found that they've moved to places like Denver, San Antonio, Boise, and Salt Lake City.
Hansen has been mapping where all of Paradise's diaspora has ended up.
Seniors, those aged 65 or older, who made up a significant portion of the Paradise community, have moved away in droves. Of that group, Hansen found that about 50 percent have moved 30 or more miles away from the fire, meaning that they have left the immediate region. "That says to me that we lost a lot of our older population... and the people that were able to remain are more of a working-age population." He says that many of those who had slightly higher incomes were able to stay in the vicinity and move into available housing in Chico and elsewhere nearby, while those with less money coming in likely moved further away.
Former Paradise resident Jan Dunn tells KQED that she and her husband have reluctantly relocated to North Carolina, even though their whole family remains in California. It turned out that their home was under-insured for fire, and they also lost out in a bid to buy a house in nearby Corning because they couldn't acquire fire insurance for it.
About 39 percent of those aged 45 to 64 have also moved beyond the 30-mile mark, along with 31 percent of those aged 30 to 45.
KQED also spoke with former Paradise Mayor Dan Wentland, 69, who moved across the country to Tennessee within weeks of the fire in 2018.
"I went back up to Paradise immediately when the fire was still burning. I saw it, went back, and told my wife, 'We're moving because it's never going to be a town again,' " Wentland says to KQED. "It'll never be the Paradise that we knew."
While parts of the town continue to reconstruct, slowly, Hansen notes that only a few people have relocated to the town itself, and a couple of those only via post-office boxes meaning they are probably just nearby and getting mail there.