Watch CBS News

6 years after California's deadly Camp Fire, some residents are returning to Paradise

Rebuilding Paradise after Camp Fire
Some residents return to Paradise 6 years after deadly Camp Fire 04:06

The town of Paradise, California, was almost completely destroyed in the 2018 Camp Fire — which scorched more than 150,000 acres and was the deadliest wildfire in the state's history. The once lush landscape covered in pine trees was stripped bare, as 95% of the town burned.

But from the ashes, a new breed of American pioneer was born.

Kylie Wrobel and her daughter, Ellie, were one of the first families to return.

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

In 2019, six months after the firestorm that destroyed everything, and nearly claimed their lives, the Wrobels were in tears. Now, Ellie Wrobel told CBS News, "Even though we lost everything in the fire, it's nice to have something new."

California Town Of Paradise Devastated By The Camp Fire Continues Search And Recovery Efforts
An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire on November 15, 2018 in Paradise, California. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Kylie Wrobel said, "You just heal every single day. It's nice to get back in our hometown because then it, you get a fresh start on life."

Thousands more have come back for a fresh start. In fact, Paradise was the fastest-growing town in California for the past four years, according to the California Department of Finance.

Jennifer Gray Thompson, the founder of the nonprofit After the Fire, which helps people decide if they should rebuild, said, "People who do decide to rebuild in a place like Paradise, they're often even safer than they were before the fire, because that place has already been burned."

Fire threatens 40% of homes in California. Starting in the 1990s, well-intentioned firefighters were trained to quickly put out flames to protect a growing population. But dead vegetation was left behind, which, combined with increasing drought levels, ended up creating a fuel source that continues to threaten communities today.

In Paradise, efforts are focused on protecting against future fires. All power lines will be buried underground and all residents must remove vegetation that's too close to their homes. Federal grants are offered to homeowners who use fire-resistant materials to build their homes.

A Slow Recovery For Paradise, California
Aerial photos of Paradise, California, on May 23, 2023, show a slow recovery from the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. George Rose/Getty Images

Kylie Wrobel said she believes the town is more resilient today than it was in 2018.

"The likelihood of seeing another wildfire in Paradise, it already devastated our whole community, took the trees. I don't think another wildfire would hit like it," she said.

But not everyone agrees enough to return. While Paradise has seen record growth, the current population is still only one-third of what it was before the Camp Fire.

"Paradise is a microcosm of broader issues that our nation's going to have to grapple with more," said UC Davis' Ryan Miller, a researcher who is tracking growing climate migration in the U.S. and the conflicts it's causing.

"I'm hoping with some of the work we understand from Paradise, we can get ahead of some of those issues and prevent those disasters from happening later down the road," he said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.