PARADISE, Calif. - The town of Paradise saw a transformation in its name, evolving from Leonards Mill to Poverty Ridge, then to Pair-O-Dice, and ultimately settling on Paradise, as per the Geographic Names Information System.
One of the modern-day pioneers in the town, a woman nearing her 80s, has made it her mission to rejuvenate her community.
When the devastating Camp Fire swept through Paradise, it consumed 18,804 structures, majority homes and almost every business, leaving 95% of the town in ruins. The surviving structures remained closed for months, if not years.
"For the most part, it's all wiped out," said longtime resident Norman Saunders.
In the aftermath of the fire, Nikki Jones, a resident, established two businesses in Paradise. Her women's clothing store, Bobbi's Boutique, opened just five months after the flames subsided. Right next door to the boutique, she launched Nic's Deli & Wine Bar, a genuine community hub that quickly became a place where everyone knows your name.
"She was the first one to open I think, after the fire. And, we've been coming ever since. It's a great place. We love coming here." said Paradise resident Carol Boyd.
"She's made a great contribution. This is one of my wife and my favorite spots to come. It's a fun place. It's relaxing. It's got great food," added Boyd's husband, Edward Boyd.
Even though two-thirds of the town's previous population has departed, Jones firmly believes that opening her businesses was a risk worth taking.
"This is my home," Jones said.
She embodies the town's motto, "Paradise Rising."
"Well, it was important to me to help rebuild our community," said Jones.
After the devastating fire, the COVID pandemic added another layer of challenge.
"Again, it was just another tragedy. But, because our community had already experienced a tragedy, they were, in some ways, emotionally prepared to deal with it," Jones noted.
Added Saunders, "The stores are popping back up. That's good. But, it's gonna be a long process. It will never be the same."
While some residents perceive the recovery as slow compared to what it once was, Jones respectfully disagrees.
"To see how fast we've come back, I'm still in awe," she expressed.
One common thread among residents is their unwavering belief that Paradise is worth rebuilding.
"I know a lot of people that moved away and have since moved back. They just didn't want to live wherever they were," said Saunders.
Residents concur that Jones is a hero and a role model.
"She's an awesome woman. We all love her. She's like just one of the best people in the world," said longtime resident and customer Wendell Whitmore.