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Rebuilding After Devastating California Wildfires

Greenville, "a small town with a soul," is home to the largest community in the Indian Valley with about 1,000 people. It’s a town of history with buildings that date back to the mid-1800s and businesses that tote Gold-Rush era artifact.

A welcome sign along Clark Street reminds drivers of the rebuilding of the ridge almost a year after the Camp Fire on Thursday Dec. 5, 2019 in Paradise. The fire was the deadliest wildfire in California history and claimed 86 lives.
Renée C. Byer/TNS
(TNS) - California wildfires have been known to ravage through cities, burning thousands of acres and destroying properties and homes, and taking lives.

Sometimes, forcing residents to rebuild their community from ashes.

See how recent fires that have devastated these California cities:

Greenville and the Dixie Fire

The Dixie Fire started in July of 2021, blazing through more than 960,000 acres in Butte, Plumas , Shasta , Lassen and Tehama counties for more than three months.

Ninety-five structures were damaged and more than 1,000 structures were destroyed, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, most of which clustered in the the Gold Rush town of Greenville, about 150 miles northeast of Sacramento . One person died from the fire.

Greenville, “a small town with a ton of soul,” is home to the largest community in the Indian Valley with about 1,000 people, according to the Plumas County’s website. It’s a town of history with buildings that date back to the mid-1800s and businesses that tote Gold-Rush era artifact.

The fire wiped most of Greenville and its historic buildings in 2021, including Village Drug Co.  in downtown  Greenville, the oldest building in the community, built in 1860.

“The town is completely gone. The town has been devastated and leveled,” Eva Gorman , owner of a shop called Josefina Fine Knits, told The Bee a few weeks into the fire. “There’s nothing left, almost nothing left of the town.”

Hotels, stores, a post office and postal truck, the First Lutheran Church of Greenville — all turned to rubble due to the Dixie Fire, The Bee reported in August, more than two months shy of the fire being fully contained.

This isn’t the first time that flames devastated Greenville. In 1881, most of the town’s buildings were destroyed by fire, according to the Indian Valley Chamber of Commerce . It was quickly rebuilt by the next year.

Greenville is still in the process of reconstructing its town after the latest devastating wildfire.

“[T]he community is in a time of transition and rebirth,” according to the county website.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services reported in April 2022 that the process of repairing, rebuilding and rehousing people in the community is still ongoing. As of April, more than 96,000 tons of debris had been removed, but other protocols, such as soil testing, erosion control and tree removals continued.

Temporary housing was set up in trailers for displaced families and portable classrooms were secured in Taylorsville for students to return to in-person instruction.

Berry Creek and the Bear Fire

In September 2020 , the Bear Fire leveled the small rural-suburban town of Berry Creek , with a population of about 1,200 people.

Located north of Lake Oroville in Butte County, Berry Creek is known for its Bald Rock views, nature trails and local businesses. On its town webpage is a list dedicated to storefronts and home-based markets — plumbing handyman repair, organic farm goods, nutritional beverages and second-hand sales — with direct contacts to the owners, on a first-name basis.

But most of the businesses were likely consumed by the ferocity of the Bear Fire. Fueled by 45 mph winds, The Bee reported on September 2020, the fire destroyed every house in its way and blazed Berry Creek Elementary School. It also took over Village Market , the town’s only grocery store and gas station, Cal EOS stated.

Burnt vehicles, downed powerlines, ash and smoldering logs were all that was left of the foothill community, The Bee wrote.

The Bear Fire was eventually renamed the North Complex Fire, a combination of three fires sparked by lightning which include the Claremont, the Sheep and the Bear Fire. In total, the North Complex Fire ravaged more than 318,000 acres, killed 16 people and destroyed more than 2,000 structures, according to the Incident Information System.

Cal EOS reported on July 2021 that Berry Creek was impacted the most during the fire, with 12 Berry Creek residents dead and 1,238 structures destroyed.

The town is still in the process of recovering. According to Cal EOS, progress has been made to revive Berry Creek’s lifeline, Village Market.

“Cal OES was able to preserve the gas station during debris removal, great news for Berry Creek since the nearest gas station is roughly 30-45 minutes away,” the agency stated on its report.

While the site still needs to undergo further testing and inspections to rebuild, a new market has been opened for residents. News Action Now reported that Gold City Market was opened in  Oroville  in  February 2022.

Berry Creek United, a nonprofit organization, was formed by four residents weeks after the fire destroyed the town. It aims to rebuild the community and to provide essential goods to those displaced.

Paradise and the Camp Fire

The town of Paradise in Butte County , 90 miles north of Sacramento, is also on the road to recovery after being razed by the Camp Fire in 2018.

Paradise , known for its tall pine and oak trees, was a destination for gold prospectors during the mid 1800s and served as a trading post, according to the town’s website. As the legend states, the town got its name from  William Leonard, a mill owner, who after a hot summer day of delivering lumber to the valley, said to his team after settling under the shade of the ponderosa pines: “boys, this is paradise.”

Now, many of these trees are in the process of removal as a part of the town’s Long Term Recovery Plan.

The Camp Fire burned more than 150,000 acres in  Butte County  in  November 2018 , destroying more than 18,000 structures, killing 85 residents and fire personnel and injuring three in the 17 days it was active. According to the town’s website, 90% of buildings in  Paradise were destroyed from the fire.

Salons, Colyer Veterinary, stores, the town’s signature trees — all burned to ashes, The Bee reported in June 2019 as some residents returned to see the remains of their community.

“It would be nice to go on vacation for about five years and come back and see how it’s doing,” resident Stewart Nugent told The Bee as he cleaned up his yard that was destroyed after a worker cut down a burned tree and it accidentally fell on it. “See what they’ve got. See if they’ve got the Jack In The Box opened back up.”

Some reconstruction to Paradise has been made. According to a KTVU report in June 2022 , 1,400 homes have been rebuilt in  Paradise.

The town is undergoing a long-term plan to rebuild, which includes three phases: recovery, rebuilding and thriving. The first stage refers to removing debris and dead trees, the second is focused on economic development and returning homes to residents and the third stage is about helping residents flourish in their community.

Projects included in the plan are creating a walkable downtown and evaluating roads.

Rebuild Paradise Foundation , a grassroots movement led by Camp Fire survivors and community leaders, was also formed to provide resources, help repopulate affected areas of the fire and get residents back into their homes.

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