5 years later after devastating fire: Trying to live again in Paradise

Though Paradise went through hellfire on Nov. 8, 2018, it is today, like the Phoenix of Greek mythology, rising from its own ashes. What is here now, is mostly very new, very modern and very fire-resistant, but far less populated.

The town of 26,600, since that fateful day, plunged to just 4500 in 2019. Today, just over 9000 live here, only about a third.

At this pace, it will take a quarter-century for this town to get back to its pre-fire residency. 

"I figure it's gonna be another 20 years before it's any semblance of a town with a population," said 30-year resident Norman Saunders, who came here from the Bay Area and who has lived the last five years in a trailer.

 But, he says he's adapted. 

"Everybody knows everybody here. Everybody is good people."

Someday, the Skyway Trailer Park, now turned into an RV park, will look just like the beautiful green picture on its sign, but right now, it's in dry, unpaved development that does offer utilities at a meager price.

Nonetheless, the people who live here say they are dedicated to Paradise. Meeko Boutros, born and raised in Paradise, is Saunders' RV park neighbor.

"Today, five years later, I think that I am mostly recovered. I think I'm gonna be OK. But the emotional damage is still there…" said Boutros.

Full recovery is still far off. 

"I had a lawsuit with PG&E. I've received just over half, and it's taken a very long time. It's been long and drawn out; ten percent here, ten percent there you know. Not a lump sum. But the people that did stay, they're deep-rooted in the Paradise community, and they will hold it together." said Boutros.

The 32 trailer parks that were established pre-fire were mostly wiped out. Nonetheless, trailers are everywhere, whether in ad hoc parks or on properties where the owners have yet to rebuild, if they ever can.

Most residential construction is pre-fab and very cheap compared to Bay Area prices. But here, most incomes are low or fixed, so most lots remain empty by those who left long ago. 

"The progress they're making is so slow that, for the [last] five years, I've just seen very minimal," said Saunders.

Yet, for many transplants, Paradise was and remains the paradise they were looking for. 

"I lived in Sacramento, lived in Santa Clara, came up here. Married my wife. Her family property was up here. I don't want to leave," said Paradise resident Wendell Whitmore. 

When asked if this town was a paradise: "Oh, heck yeah," he responded.

For Boutros, Paradise will always be home. 

"I'm just grateful I am where I am now," he said.