Res­i­dents of Cal­i­for­nia town lev­eled by fire can go home

The Oklahoman - - NATION | WORLD - BY DON THOMP­SON

PAR­ADISE, CALIF. — Some res­i­dents of a North­ern Cal­i­for­nia town dev­as­tated by a cat­a­strophic wild­fire nearly a month ago were fi­nally al­lowed to re­turn home Wed­nes­day to sift through the charred re­mains in search of pre­cious fam­ily heir­looms, pho­tos and other pos­ses­sions that may have sur­vived.

A long line of cars waited in a cold driz­zle at a check­point on their way to neigh­bor­hoods on the east side of Par­adise, where evac­u­a­tion or­ders have been lifted.

Be­yond the check­point, crews in yel­low slick­ers were still clear­ing de­bris from burned homes and re­mov­ing trees from streets lit­tered with melted plas­tic trash cans and hol­lowed ve­hi­cles sit­ting on tire­less rims.

Be­fore head­ing to their home, Joyce McLean, 73, and her hus­band, Jerry McLean, stopped at a store to buy paper tow­els and plas­tic bags.

“We didn’t own ex­pen­sive things, but we had a lot of mem­ory things,” she said, re­call­ing Christ­mas or­na­ments made by her son when he was a child and me­men­tos from her Cana­dian hus­band’s great­grand­mother. “If I can find a lit­tle piece of his fam­ily or just a lit­tle piece of my son, I would be happy.”

Ac­cess to the neigh­bor­hoods was lim­ited to res­i­dents on Wed­nes­day, but they will be open to any­one on Thurs­day.

More than 50,000 peo­ple in Par­adise and two neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties were forced to flee the wind-driven fire that started Nov. 8, killing at least 85 peo­ple, destroying about 14,000 homes and black­en­ing 240 square miles.

Au­thor­i­ties said 11 peo­ple were still un­ac­counted for in what was the dead­li­est U.S. wild­fire in at least a cen­tury.

McLean said she has seen pho­tos on so­cial me­dia of her de­stroyed home and knows one of the only things that sur­vived was an Amer­i­can flag fly­ing on a pole.

“We lost ev­ery­thing but the clothes on our backs,” she said about their dash for safety.

McLean said re­turn­ing after her har­row­ing es­cape dur­ing the fire had made her ner­vous and emo­tional, but she hoped she could at least re­cover the flag.

They are now rent­ing a house in the re­gion and plan to re­build in Par­adise.

The com­mu­ni­ties will have very lim­ited ser­vices for the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, and au­thor­i­ties urged res­i­dents to bring food, wa­ter and fuel for ve­hi­cles.

[AP PHOTO]

Scorched wheel­chairs rest out­side Cy­press Mead­ows Post-Acute, a nurs­ing home lev­eled by the Camp Fire on Tues­day in Par­adise, Calif.

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