A flame-shredded American flag hangs in the still, grey air. It’s flagpole barely holds on to a vertical gutter that’s attached to a burnt piece of wood. A charred chimney stands intact behind the flag. Blackened, brown and green tree trucks, limbs and leaves stand behind a chimney in a thick, ash-filled atmosphere. At this moment, on Nov. 15, a week after the Camp Fire began, this Paradise home and community appears to be in shambles. However, for thousands of evacuees, life goes on.
This is the scene on Wildwood Lane behind the Cozy Diner in Paradise. The seared American flag once belonged to family’s front door area. It once belonged to a home. Now, it’s just a burned down house. The flag and chimney are the only home or family symbols that still stand.
Several other destroyed houses looked similar to this house; pipes twisted together in piles, pieces of roof flattened on the ground, small pillars of smoke rising from holes in the ground where tree trucks once were planted. Yet most also had a charred yet intact chimney and others somewhat intact artifacts; what I saw as glimmers of hope.
However, some structures were completely intact and unharmed. This was the case for the apartment building next door to this Wildwood Lane house. The apartment building was unscathed; even trees and scrubs surrounding the building were untouched by the flames. When I saw this apartment building intact, I was thrilled, as myself and a group of reporters were looking for the home of an evacuee named Lourie Jones.
We met Jones at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church on Nov. 14, the night before we ventured out into Paradise. She told us her evacuation story. Jones told us how her and her family drove to Chico the first night the Camp Fire was raging on. She described how flames and embers surrounded her car on both sides of Skyway Road.
When we spoke on Nov. 14, she had time to reflect and told us that her family was making the best out of what life handed them.
“Deal with what you can, best you can and hope for a better tomorrow,” Jones said.
For Jones, her husband and their three kids and six grandchildren, life is anything but normal now. While Jones’ apartment home on Wildwood Lane survived the fire, her family is now displaced and unable to return home for an unknown amount of time.
This is the grim reality for many people, not just from Paradise but also from Pulga, Cresta, Parkhill, Big Bend, Concow, Magalia, Centerville, Mineral Slide, Irish Town and Helltown. While Jones and her family were fortunate to survive the flames, they now join thousands of evacuees who must either choose to move on from these areas or choose to rebuild their lives here in Butte County. While the actual flames of the Camp Fire are now 100 percent contained, the long fight for many families is just beginning.
Alex Grant can be reached at [email protected] or @AlexThomasGrant on Twitter.