Paradise rebuilds: survivors of the deadliest wildfire in California history rise from the ashes
PARADISE, Calif. - Amid the fire scarred landscape of Paradise, the seemingly endless rows of empty lots where homes once stood, life is slowly returning from the ashes.
"It's still beautiful," says Paradise resident Victoria Sinclair.
Sinclair and her family are living in their rebuilt home on Forest Lane.
"It's 100% the most relaxing place to be. I enjoy every moment I'm here," Sinclair said.
The Sinclair family was the first homeowner to move back. The little that the family was able to salvage from the fire is on display in their living room.
"My grandma gave me this teapot when my husband and I first got married," she said.
On November 8th, 2018, the Camp Fire came on so fast, people had little time to evacuate.
"Things were blowing up. Things were catching fire. Lines were coming down. Trees were coming down. You were in this apocalyptic environment. It was unreal," said Sinclair.
Sinclair says she drove through flames using windshield fluid to put out embers on her car.
Still she her daughter and husband are happy to be back in Paradise, even if it means running the risk of another wildfire.
"I saw the promise of something new that was going to come from that. And it was a feeling of being home," she said.
On the day of the Camp Fire, 26,000 people lived in paradise. Only 3,000 have moved back so far.
People here say recovery will be slow.
"We've lost 80% of our congregation at our church," says Bert Clement.
Of the 18,000 homes destroyed, only 11 houses are finished. About 450 more are in the pipeline.
The town's building department expects those numbers to keep growing.
The Clement family is living in an RV, but expects their home will be ready by Christmas.
"Our mailman claps because we are coming back," he said.
Clement keeps what's left of his melted Harley Davidson motorcycle.
The Clement's say they understand why many won't return. Fear of of a re-occurrence, problems with insurance or securing loans. But they can't picture living anywhere else.
"There will be a new Paradise. And it won't be as busy. But I think the community is really strong," says Jo Lynne Clement.
Many won't return. The expense and ordeal of rebuilding, or fear of another fire are factors. But what about those who do come back?.
"We have each other's back. And we are going to be a community that comes back stronger than ever," Sinclair said.
Another family, another new home, another story of survival. Alex Savidge reports from Paradise.
Rebuilding Paradise: What's next? Tom Vacar explains the next steps for the Town of Paradise.