Paradise, California, Residents Return To Town After Wildfire Killed 85 & Destroyed 14,000 Homes

Residents were given hazmat suits to wear as they rummaged through the rubble of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in at least a century.

Paradise wildfire ruins, two firefighters present.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Residents were given hazmat suits to wear as they rummaged through the rubble of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in at least a century.

Almost one month after the devastating Camp Fire consumed the town of Paradise, California, residents were heartbreakingly allowed back inside the fire zone to see what, if anything, was left of their homes.

Residents who lived on the east side of town were able to sift through the debris littering what was once their yards and their houses, but did so with heavy hearts –knowing that at least 85 people perished in the fire, and that approximately 14,000 homes were destroyed.

Paradise was home to 27,000 people, but only 4,700 people have been permitted to return to somewhat safe areas, reported Business Insider. Jennifer Christensen, 34, was one former resident allowed back to her property — with mixed emotions. The first thing she laid eyes upon was her two-year-old son’s badly burned tricycle still parked in the front yard. It brought her to tears.

“It’s unbelievable. You know, I never thought it would happen to me. Everything I worked so hard for is gone,” she said.

She was able to recover a safe from the charred home, but the jewelry it had once protected had been melted together.

“I lost my kid’s handprints and footprints from when he was born. This is all stuff that can’t be replaced,” Christensen said.

Rebecca Rogers accompanied Christensen to Paradise, and shockingly uncovered what she believes was the remains of her friend’s cat, Marble, under what used to be Christensen’s bed. She buried the remains in Christensen’s front yard, she told Business Insider.

“I don’t want her to look. It’s just too much, it’s just too much. I’ve got to be strong. I’ve got to do this for her,” Rogers said.

Paradise Police Chief Eric Reinbold urged residents to bring their own supplies of food, water, and fuel for their vehicles. They were given safety kits with gloves and hazmat suits, then informed that they really should not actually move back into their homes until all of the ash and hazardous waste had been removed from their properties.

The forecast of rain could hamper people’s recovery efforts, possibly prompting flash floods and mudslides, officials warned. Dennis MacAleese, spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., said the utility company had deployed 4,000 people to the area in the hopes of restoring electric and gas services to the properties that could receive utilities in the next month or so.

Emergency workers were still clearing debris from what used to be people’s homes and removing trees from neighborhood streets. Scattered around them were melted plastic trash cans and the burned remains of vehicles sitting on tireless rims. It was reminiscent of a ghost town, adding to the wave of emotions residents were experiencing.