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Paradise residents who relocated after devastating Camp Fire still face extreme weather risks

Relocated Paradise residents face extreme weather
Paradise residents who relocated after Camp Fire still face extreme weather risks 03:21

Paradise, California — Extreme weather has ravaged main streets across America, and in the last five years, at least five towns in four states have been nearly erased from the map, all after Paradise in Northern California fell.

"At first I thought we were just going to, you know, maybe evacuate for a day or two, and then come back home," Justin Miller told CBS News.   

Justin Miller's childhood home in Paradise was among the nearly 20,000 homes and businesses destroyed by the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people. He's one of the many who chose not to return, and now makes his home in nearby Oroville.

"At first, we were thinking, you know, after the lot was cleared off, we could rebuild there," Miller said. "But…then we realized that the town would take a while to rebuild, so it would just be easier to move someplace like here in Oroville."

Just last year, extreme weather forced about 2.5 million Americans from their homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Research from released in March found that 44% of all American homes are threatened by climate change.

"Paradise was that place in the nineties for my family where they could afford their own small house," said Ryan Miller, older brother of Justin and a Ph.D. candidate in geography now studying climate migration.

"Why were we in a situation where the affordable place was also the place that had this huge hazard?" Ryan asks. "And so, it made me really start to view Paradise through the lens of these broader issues around housing affordability and exposure to climate driven risks."

Ryan and his team from the University of California, Davis, used postal records to track where people moved after the Camp Fire. What they found was that in many cases, a move didn't solve the problem, but put people back in harm's way, with households moving into areas also threatened by other kinds of disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

"Maybe we're in a situation where, increasingly, people are finding that in their search for affordable housing, they sort of have to live in an area that's exposed to one of these climate-driven hazards," Ryan said. 

"We're going to see more potential Paradises happening, where we have these communities exposed to this threat that the community might not be prepared to face," Ryan adds.

Paradise residents Kylie Wrobel, and her daughter Ellie, remained in Paradise after the Camp Fire, largely picking up the pieces on their own by clearing dead trees and vegetation from their property as they applied for and waited to receive federal aid.

They say home now has a new meaning for them.

"Home for me was kind of a place you live in, but home will always be wherever my mom is," Ellie said.

Five years on, Paradise families have scattered, the fabric of this small town torn. But don't tell that to the Wrobels, pioneers of a new American community they hope is resilient to climate-fueled storms.

"Seeing the town grow and build, my heart needed this," Kylie said. "A lot of people don't want to come back here. I had to stay here."

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