Paradise, Calif., Holds Memorial For 85 Killed In Fire

Feb 9, 2019
Originally published on February 9, 2019 12:06 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Northern California yesterday, there was a somber community memorial for the 85 people who lost their lives in the Camp Fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDA WATKINS-BENNETT: It's been exactly three months today since the fire started. The healing process is just beginning.

SIMON: The wildfire nearly wiped out the entire town of Paradise and communities around it last November. Chuck Huff's father was one of the victims. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports that despite losing so much, Huff is committed to staying and rebuilding.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: One ridge over from Paradise, the rural mountain village of Concow hasn't gotten as much media attention. It's a lot smaller. But three months after the Camp Fire, the scale of the destruction here is still a shock to see.

CHUCK HUFF: Hey, guys.

SIEGLER: Down a dirt driveway, Chuck Huff and his son are picking up blackened sticks and burnt brush, throwing them into a pile.

CHUCK HUFF: You can't deal with anything up in the burned area. That's what they're saying.

SIEGLER: Friendly and soft-spoken, wearing a ball cap for shade while he works, Chuck is the main caregiver for his 19-year-old son, Casey, who's developmentally disabled.

CHUCK HUFF: Basically, we're cleaning brush. You know, it's burnt down. We lived through the 2008 fires, and we didn't realize how quick brush was going to grow and overtake.

SIEGLER: Things are tough right now. Chuck wipes the sweat off his forehead and turns to look at what's left of his father's home on the hill above us.

CHUCK HUFF: Basically, right up there where the Suburban is, their place burned down in 2008, and they had a new mobile home put in.

SIEGLER: Then, last November, the Camp Fire roared through. His elderly father couldn't get out.

CHUCK HUFF: And it burned down again. And, unfortunately, my father burnt with it.

SIEGLER: His father died, his family home burnt twice now in 10 years. And the home that he and his wife and son lived in over in Paradise also burned to the ground in November. It's a pile-on, and theirs is just one of many other harrowing stories of victims in this huge disaster. It is unfair.

CHUCK HUFF: Obviously, with my disabled son, his structure being turned upside down, or lack of structure, just affects everyone in our family, you know?

CASEY HUFF: (Unintelligible).

SIEGLER: But they're not leaving these mountains. His wife is back at work at the local school. Their plan was to stay here in Concow, where the burnt-out properties are farther apart and the well water is safe to drink. Over in Paradise, the destruction is far worse. The debris still has to be trucked out, and you can't drink the water.

CHUCK HUFF: You know, I can't put my wife and my son in, you know, in harm's way in Paradise. You know, it's very dangerous and not healthy.

SIEGLER: And they're not afraid of eventually rebuilding in a high-risk area like this.

CHUCK HUFF: No. That's part of life. We will definitely be way more prepared before - than the previous two times.

SIEGLER: Starting with clearing out all this brush. Now, this is home, he says. This is where the memories are.

CHUCK HUFF: You know, it's easy to move on. But this - you know, you can't let go. It was our life. You know, it was the center of our family.

SIEGLER: The Duffs (ph) had planned to camp out here on these 5 acres while they try to rebuild. But this week, the government said they have to wait until it's all been cleaned up.

CHUCK HUFF: You got to play by the rules. I understand that.

SIEGLER: So they'll have to keep living where they've lived these past three long months - in a camper parked in his sister's driveway down in Chico. Chuck doesn't blame anyone, though. He tries to shrug it off as he gets back to clearing all the brush off his parents' charred lot.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRECIOUS FATHERS' "SNOWSHOES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.