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California Town Looks to Rebuild After Wildfire, but No Clear Path Forward

Paradise, California, burned to the ground last year, and the town’s recovery has begun. But questions remain about the measures that should be put into place to prevent another disaster.
November 15, 2019, 1pm PST | Camille Fink
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Butte County, California
Sharon Hahn Darlin

The Camp Fire leveled Paradise, California, last year, but signs of recovery are evident, reports Laura Newberry. A dozen houses have been rebuilt, businesses are reopening, and schools are back in session. But progress made since the disaster belies the many challenges that remain. "It’s a path forward that seems to hinge, in part, on a perplexing question: Just how many fire safety measures can Paradise afford?" says Newberry.

Residents understand that changes need to happen to make Paradise safer, but they are also pushing back on what they see as costly and intrusive proposals. The city council adopted a ban on gutters and retaining walls made of flammable materials, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company will bury utility lines.

However, a proposal to require a five-foot zone between houses and combustible materials has received mixed reviews from residents. "[Paradise officials also] know that some fire safety measures could tack thousands onto building costs for people who are already facing insurance settlement shortfalls in a place that has historically been a haven for seniors on limited budgets," notes Newberry.

Officials say they want to bring people back to Paradise, where the population has dropped from 27,000 to just 2,000, while also planning for the town’s long-term resiliency. In addition, a variety of immediate needs have to be addressed, including removal of half a million dead or dying trees and development of a safer road network, which could involve the purchase of private land.

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Published on Friday, November 8, 2019 in Los Angeles Times
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