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Six Months Later, How Are the Communities Affected by the Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire Recovering?

Both Butte County and Los Angeles County are still dealing with the social, environmental, and financial costs of the fires.
An aerial view of homes destroyed by the Camp Fire on February 11th, 2019, in Paradise, California.

An aerial view of homes destroyed by the Camp Fire on February 11th, 2019, in Paradise, California.

Last November, two blazes, the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire, caused mass destruction in California. Here's how the affected communities are recovering half a year later.

Camp Fire

The deadly fire claimed 85 lives and burned more than 153,000 acres in and around the town of Paradise in Butte County, north of Sacramento. Roughly 90 percent of the homes in Paradise burned after the fire began to quickly spread on November 8th, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Today, NPR reports, an estimated 1,000 or more families remain without even temporary housing.

Though progress has been slow, residents have adamantly argued in favor of rebuilding in the area, although it is a "high-risk fire severity zone," according to the Los Angeles Times.

As the Chronicle reported last week, eight of the nine schools in the region were damaged or destroyed, and only one of them has reopened. Whether the damaged hospital will be rebuilt remains unknown.

Paradise is also dealing with the aftermath of damaged pipes, which have contaminated the water with benzene, a compound that is linked to cancer, according to the Sacramento Bee. Experts told the Bee that clean pipes may be available for some homes later this year, but it will take up to two years and $300 million before clean pipes are widely distributed and residents are able to safely use tap water.

Woolsey Fire

The Woolsey Fire broke out in Southern California's Ventura County on the same day that the Camp Fire began to wreak havoc in the north. After rapidly spreading through parts of Los Angeles County, the Woolsey Fire became the most devastating in county history: It ultimately destroyed roughly 100,000 acres, 1,600 structures, and killed three people.

The fire threatened homes in Malibu, Calabasas, and other wealthy areas—areas that had a median home value of $1.1 million, according to Bloomberg. Homes belonging to celebrities, including Miley Cyrus, Neil Young, and Gerard Butler, were among those destroyed by the fire, according to the New York Times.

Los Angeles County estimates that it spent about $100 million on the emergency response and infrastructure repairs. Last month, the county became the latest entity to sue Southern California Edison—the utility company whose damaged electrical equipment may have caused the Woolsey Fire—for millions in damages, the Los Angeles Times reported. The official cause of the fire hasn't yet been determined by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Further Reading

Here are some highlights from Pacific Standard's reporting on the causes, context, and consequences of the California fires.

  • In February, Kelley Czajka explored how the government shutdown exacerbated November's wildfires. She reported that the shutdown delayed and reduced work aimed at mitigating and preventing fires, such as prescribed burns.
  • In January, Sharon Zhang asked: Who is paying the price of our warming climate? A few months after the fire, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company filed for bankruptcy with debt estimated at more than $30 billion. She concludes that the costs of PG&E's bankruptcy (and future "climate bankruptcies") will likely be passed on to consumers.
  • Earlier this year, Emily Moon reported that most fires are caused by humans (in fact, 90 percent of wildland fires in the United States are), which is problematic in an increasingly variable climate. And trends like building homes in the wildland-urban interface are further exacerbating the uptick in fires.
  • Emily Moon also fact-checked President Donald Trump's claims about the California wildfires: Yes, they are in large part caused by climate change, and, no, California's forest management is not at fault for the fires.
  • Back in 2017, Kate Wheeling looked at research showing that global warming is making California's fire seasons worse.