Rebuilding Paradise: ‘We’re going to do our best to make it as best as it can be … We are Paradise strong’
Special to the Sierra Sun
Building new homes and cleaning up debris has been a big part of recovering from the Camp Fire.
According to the town of Paradise July 3 recovery update, 6,234 properties have been cleared of debris, 1,952 properties are certified clean by Butte County and 80 building permits have been issued by the town.
According to the Butte County website, 21 building permits have been issued within the burn area as of Thursday afternoon.
Jon Hornback, owner of Ridge Construction, said his business is working to build three homes and several people are working on their plans and getting their lots cleaned in preparation of rebuilding.
Integrity Builders has seven homes being built and has others that are still waiting for things like permits, said Cassie Davis, office manager.
“The more that is rebuilt and the more people that come back, the better off the picture is going to be,” Hornback said. “If more people come back with the attitude that we can rebuild … that’s going to fuel everybody else to do the same thing.”
Davis said the more people see houses popping up, the more people may feel hopeful and choose to come back to Paradise.
Hornback said some of the challenges people are facing include things like new restrictions, people needing to have their properties surveyed and there are also code upgrades that are being required.
“A lot of people had older homes and now they’re having to upgrade their homes,” Hornback said.
He said some people are also having difficulties with insurance and having enough money to replace their homes.
Davis said people are also having to wait for their properties to be cleaned and certified.
Debbie Gaumer and her husband, Richard Stach, own a property that had a manufactured home park, Oak Hills Mobile Estates.
“We had just purchased it in May of last year,” Gaumer said. “It had 14 homes in here and they were all destroyed.”
The couple and their sons, Brayden and Tanner, along with some other helpers, were working Wednesday on cleaning up the property so they can eventually rebuild.
“Just trying to go through all of the different agencies that you have to get approved to do anything on the property has been really challenging,” Gaumer said. “... It’s hard just trying to get answers. Basically the question is what can be done and what can’t be done.”
She said they’re getting farther in the process and are waiting for some answers on possibly moving temporary RVs on the property until they can get the utilities and the manufactured homes back.
“We had a big investment we just put into this and to have it all go away without any income coming in has been really tough,” Gaumer said. “Paradise is a beautiful place so I think eventually it will probably end up being better than it was, it’s just getting over the hump, getting over the hurdles to get to that point.”
— Ruby Larson, Marysville Appeal-Democrat
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories first published by the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville, updating readers on conditions in the community of Paradise, virtually wiped out last November by wildfire.
On a warm Wednesday afternoon in the Paradise High School parking lot, a student was painting a burrito on a purple background on her seniors’ parking space.
Jessica Triebswetter, 16, has lived in Paradise since she was nine years old. Her family was one of thousands that lost their homes in the Camp Fire that devastated Paradise and the surrounding area in November 2018.
Since then, her family bought a house in Chico and she said they’re not sure they are rebuilding in Paradise or not — although they have a lot in Paradise they could utilize.
In the wake of the fire, she and other Paradise High School students ended up finishing the last school year at the Chico Airport.
“(It was) really stressful,” Triebswetter said. “Just going to school in an airport is just mind blowing because it all feels so surreal and, like, it’s not really happening to you because you never think it will happen to you, then it does.”
According to the Paradise Unified School District website, students from Paradise High School will be able to return to their campus for the upcoming school year.
“I’m really happy we’re coming back here because, honestly, I love this school and I love this campus and all the teachers here are amazing,” Triebswetter said. “I’m just really glad to be back where I feel like I’m at home.”
‘SILVER LINING IN EVERYTHING’
Tom Taylor, assistant superintendent of Paradise Unified School District, said that right after the fire enrollment in the district dropped from about 3,300 to 2,000.
“Our staff was amazing,” Taylor said. “Teachers contacted their kids, they set up activities for them, helped them be connected and gave them a sense of normalcy.”
He said the district is prepared for all 2,000 students to come back for the upcoming school year, but are anticipating about 1,200 or 1,400 students as many families have relocated.
The district also lost more than a third of their staff, Taylor said. Some had to relocate due to the fire; others were offered other jobs or retired.
He said the board decided not to do any layoffs for the coming year — allowing them to have smaller class sizes — they’re expecting student/teacher ratios of around 15-1 and 20-1.
“A school district is made up of people and the teachers and staff make the connections with the kids,” Taylor said. “They really showed how much they valued us as employees.”
Paradise and Ponderosa Elementary School students will attend school at the Paradise Intermediate School site on Recreation Drive – which will be named the Paradise Ridge Elementary School.
Seventh- and eighth-grade students from the intermediate school will have their own school on the Paradise High School campus.
Taylor said there is “a silver lining in everything” and this will allow higher-achieving students to have easier access to advanced courses and will give flexibility to electives such as band and their agriculture program.
‘SUPPORT OF SO MANY’
Ridgeview Continuation School will return to two wings on the Ponderosa campus if the cleanup at the site goes as planned and the district is looking at a site in Chico as a backup plan, Taylor said.
Pine Ridge and Cedarwood schools’ students will be able to return to their respective campuses.
“I’m just excited to be the class that will rebuild Paradise,” Triebswetter said. “… We’re going to do our best to make it as best as it can be … We are Paradise strong.”
The school district will be offering free bussing from Chico, Durham and Oroville to the Paradise schools and the district is working to identify the bus stops, Taylor said.
He said the district also received grants to bring in additional counseling for the students and staff, and they have had a lot of support from people reaching out to help after the fire – so the district has been able to do things like update and repaint schools and are going to be able to have close to one computer per student across the district.
“As we move towards opening up the school year, I think of the incredible work that’s been done by our staff,” Taylor said. “They opened classrooms shortly after the fire to be sure we can serve kids … They moved classrooms multiple times to make sure it would work. We also appreciate the outpour of support from people around the world and we would not be back at our sites without the support of so many people.”
Ruby Larson is a staff writer for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.