Paradise Lost: Wildfire devastation blankets small California town

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A town – gone.

The small mountain town in Northern California suffered massive devastation after a wildfire tore through forcing the tens of thousands to evacuation and killing dozens of residents.

Although the wildfire was contained after 18 days of burning, no matter where you look in Paradise, the gravity of what the Camp Fire did is clear in the rubble.

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Firefighters who fought the fire, who got to know the evacuees, said it’s hard to see the destruction day after day – even those firefighters with decades of experience.

While some neighborhoods were completely wiped out, there’d be some cases where one home was left standing.

Capt. Keith Wade with the Sacramento Fire Department said this was the case for one evacuee who said he wished his home burned down with his neighbors’ so he wouldn’t have to deal with the aftermath.

TRUMP IN PARADISE

President Donald Trump toured the devastation and promised federal assistance. 

It had been a week since Trump tweeted heated comments criticizing California’s forest management – not to mention threats to halt federal funding. When he visited on Nov. 17, he was singing a different tune – having hearty handshakes with the state’s governor and governor-elect and calling for united support for those harmed by the fires.

From one aircraft to another, Trump stayed focused on the reason he came to California as soon as he touched down at Beale Air Force Base in the Golden State. Going from Air Force One straight to a helicopter headed for the Camp Fire in Butte County – and to Paradise.

As he surveyed the damage, he talked with victims who have lost everything. As he did, he stood strong on a message of unity – all the while standing side-by-side with Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom.

“Jerry and I have been speaking, Gavin and I have now gotten to know each other,” Trump said when he addressed media in Paradise. “We’re all going to work together and we’ll do a real job.”

‘IT’S AN HONOR TO BE HERE’

Meanwhile firefighters from right here in the Central Valley also lended a hand with wildfire efforts.

Capt. Paul Garnier with the Fresno Fire Department was assigned to the Camp Fire and worked from incident command in nearby Chico.

“This is by far the largest amount of destruction I’ve seen in a single incident like this,” Garnier said when describing the damage he’s seen.

That’s saying a lot, considering Garnier has been a firefighter fro 25 years. He said it’s hard seeing the tragic aftermath in Paradise day after day. However, since getting to know a number of evacuees and their stories, he said his time there has become much more than a job.

“It’s an honor to be here to support this huge effort, [especially] now we’re getting support federally and locally,” he said. “It’s amazing to be a part of something so large.”

The blaze was humbling. The deadly wildfire scorched more than 150,000 acres, destroyed more than 14,000 homes and businesses, and took at least 85 lives. 

Garnier said he’s built many deep connections and bonds with evacuees, which is something Wade said he’s done as well.

During Wade’s surveys of Paradise, he’ll often check on some properties he’s been asked about. In one case Sunday, he checked on the status of someone’s safe in a home that’s now a pile of rubble.

Wade said providing closure is the least he could do.

“For that person who suffered such a loss – or their community suffered such a loss – it’s a huge thing. It makes us feel good to put a smile on someone’s face during such a difficult moment.”

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