Apr 18 2019

Wildfire Disaster: Slow Recovery

Published by at 3:19 pm under Thoughts & Musings

It has been a while since I’ve posted an update. I apologize, but it’s been a very difficult and busy time. One could think of it as the new normal I suppose, but is not the kind of normal one would choose for themselves if they could avoid it.

First, here are some details about the Camp Fire wildfire that destroyed Paradise California.

The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California History. There were 85 civilian casualties, and three people are still thought to be missing. It covered 153,336 acres which is approximately 240 square miles. It destroyed 18,804 structures of which over 14,000 of those were single-family homes. The cost of the damage was $16.5 billion.

We are still staying with family. This fire has displaced over 35,000 people. The local economy and housing market is rather overwhelmed. The job market isn’t easy, and housing is nearly impossible to find. There are zero rentals available without a long waiting list of people who need housing, FEMA is off to an extremely slow start at supplying housing. Much of it is targeted at cleaned up home sites so that people can return to their property in Paradise, however weather and other red tape has slowed the process of getting the toxics removed from peoples properties, and no housing or trailers can be allowed on property that has not been cleaned. Houses that are selling in the area, are selling for way more money than they are worth. Clearly, there are buyers for those homes, but it depends on everybody’s own situation. To some people, it is of value to pay more than market price for a home, to others it’s not a good deal.  It’s currently difficult to find a storage locker.

The authorities are trying their best to put Paradise California back on the map, even though we are not planning to return. There are a lot of new requirements now, a lot of red tape. A lot of initial work for public safety has been done and there is a lot more work to be done just to get back to where rebuilding can happen. Currently the Town of Paradise does not have potable drinking water.  The water system was contaminated by the wildfire, including major damage to the watershed and the reservoir and some of the water distribution system may need to be excavated and replaced in order to make it safe. It will be probably in excess of two years from the date of the fire before anybody has a rebuilt home, they are just getting started with removing six million tons of toxic debris, and that’s going to take a long time, in fact, they project that will take a year alone, maybe more. The easiest way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, and so we wait.

We were allowed to return to Paradise and see our former home on the 15thof December. It took until then to make Paradise safe for people to be there. It was burned to the ground just as the photos on my website show, however on the day we were there, a foot of rainfall had fallen in Paradise since the fire, so all of the ash was actually muck. Seeing it for the first time with your very own eyes is, well, it takes the wind out of you.

After looking through what remained of our home within the footprint of the building, both our home and my shop, which was in the garage, there was absolutely zero that was salvageable. Everything has been burned as if it were in a blacksmith forge, and then corroded heavily due to the rain, and laying in the wet ash. The corrosion is really immaterial. The fire destroyed everything. Anything that was made of aluminum or copper disappeared. Brass melts at about 1800°, and I did find melted brass. Steel was burnt, warped and bent, the hardness was destroyed in all steels, even the cast-iron in my bandsaw got so hot that the top of the bandsaw bent over. Many of our cast-iron frying pans were cracked. Most of what’s left of my table saw is the top. The rest is collapsed. The toilets literally disappeared, and only the iron of the bathtub remains.

The only things salvaged from the yard, was some steel patio furniture that was also damaged by the fire, a few terra-cotta pots and some bricks. Nothing else. Aside from what we took with us when we bugged out, that’s it.

In California, fires happen all the time. But that was a perfect storm for a fire. The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning three days before the storm, and in the vicinity of the Feather River Canyon, which Paradise is near, and just west of. A red flag warning is usually issued win high winds and dry conditions exist simultaneously. What happens is the dry air removes humidity from the air, and moisture from all of the plants in the area, making them extremely vulnerable to fire conditions. All the wind that blew through that canyon basically exhausted itself directly into the fire. 

Cal Fire, the state of California’s firefighting Agency said that the campfire exhibited fire behaviors that they had never seen before. The Fire transported to hot embers in the wind 1-1.5 miles ahead of the main fire all day in a leapfrogging effect. It moved on the ground 1.5 mph as it was driven by 30 to 50 mph winds. Most of the fire on the ground actually passed underneath many of the trees. It did not burn the trees with consuming fire, but it was hot enough to actually kill them. It is estimated that over 450,000 trees are dead and will need to be removed for Public Safety even if on private land. It was a very fast moving fire. The fire traveled over 21 miles the first day. It burned everything behind it like a blacksmith forge. It was just an unimaginable fire, but we believe it because it happened. It happened to us.

Fast forward to today. The disaster is in recovery, but still just getting started. Bureaucracy and weather conditions have slowed recovery efforts. As I said earlier, we are staying with family. Because of the disaster and the effect is has had on the region, it looks like we will possibly be staying here a year before the rental market can open up enough to allow property owners in Paradise to find their way back into temporary housing on their own property, freeing up places to live in other parts of the county.  The county is overwhelmed with a major lack of places to live, and people just rooming with others. Those who could, have left the area. Not everybody can. 

Where we are staying is a small home, just 1100 Square feet. Unfortunately there is not space available here to have a woodworking shop. No shop machines will be workable here. There is only space to work at a desk, or outside when the weather permits. This does not mean I will be unable to do woodworking or other crafts; I will just have to do them differently, portably, and in smaller scale. 

I am trying to get some tools together so that I can return to some form of self employment to help pay the bills and recover from the fire, though I’m sure it will be humble compared to the shop we lost, because I won’t be able to make many of the items I used to. There are quite a few unknowns there, but without employment and an income, as well as an incomplete set of tools to really even get started with, I’m still working that out.

My wife is employed, and that is a huge blessing. Her parents are happy to have us here and this has been a blessing.  I’m trying to stay positive, but I have to admit, it is really humbling to be in this position. I am resilient and resourceful, I am slowly getting back to my feet, but it’s taking some time.  I’m still trying to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.

I wanted to thank everybody who has made a donation to help us, we deeply appreciate all of you. If anybody would like to help with a donation, it will help us get back on our feet. We have a long way to go. There are donation buttons on main page of our website and on the store page of our website. I’ll put in links below so you can find it there.

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Copyright 2019 by Rob Hanson for evenfallstudios.com All Rights Reserved. 

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