Kirk Siegler | WOSU Radio

Kirk Siegler

Just 2 1/2 hours from Los Angeles, it feels like another world, bouncing along an old jeep road in the remote Temblor Range.

"The rainbow that these hills were for the last month is pretty much gone," remarks my pal Michael Lee Jackson, a professional photographer and amateur explorer, as we drive.

It's his seventh trip to the Carrizo Plain National Monument since mid-March. That was the start of the "super bloom" that transformed Southern California's deserts and prairies into stunning mosaics of yellows, oranges, reds, purples and blues.

Five months after the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, the town of Paradise remains a disaster zone. Only 6 percent of the debris from last November's Camp Fire has been hauled away. Burned out skeletons of cars, piles of toxic rubble and blackened old-growth pine trees can still be seen everywhere.

Before the wildfire, the population of Paradise was about 26,000. Today, it's in the hundreds.

It's the boom times in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which is wrapping up a winter of record snowfall. Eager to take advantage of it, Donovan Sliman and his two young daughters are lumbering up a snowy trail on the outskirts of town, where the condos give way to National Forest.

"I like to get away from everybody else," says Donovan. "I like to hear the sound of the wind and the snow through the trees." "We're also going to go sledding," adds Grace, one of his daughters.

Experts who monitor hate groups say the attacks on Friday at the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, follow a sharp rise in violent white extremism around the globe and especially in the United States.

"They operate in an ideological world of people that reinforce each other's ideas but may never actually meet each other in person," says Kathy Blee of the University of Pittsburgh, who studies white extremism.

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Last fall's deadly Camp Fire has brought renewed questions about whether towns in high-risk areas like Paradise, Calif., should even be rebuilt.

Barry Long recently tried to squash those questions immediately as he kicked off a crowded town hall meeting at Paradise Alliance Church.

"One of the first questions we get is, 'Are they really going to rebuild Paradise?' " Long said. "And we say that's not a question. [The Town] Council made an immediate decision [that] we're going to rebuild Paradise."

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In Northern California yesterday, there was a somber community memorial for the 85 people who lost their lives in the Camp Fire.

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Three months have passed since the deadly Camp Fire devastated towns in the mountains of Butte County, Calif., leaving residents with burned-out properties covered with potentially toxic debris.

In the mountain hamlet of Concow, one ridge over from Paradise, folks say they're used to wildfires and cleaning up after them. They load up a pickup a few times and haul the debris away to the dump. At least that's how they remember it being in 2008 after the last wildfire; but this time around, the clean-up process is not the same.

Small Town Boom

Feb 8, 2019

There's a commonly-heard narrative about small towns in rural areas of the United States: that they are in a state of terminal decline. A recent NPR poll found that is simply not true. Some areas are in a slump, sure, but many others are seeing a resurgence, driven by resettlement from urban areas, government programs designed to regenerate disadvantaged towns, and advances in technology.

Paradise, Calif., the northern California town nestled in a pine cloaked ridge in the Sierra Foothills, had a population of about 25,000 until it was almost entirely wiped out by the Camp Fire nearly three months ago. It was the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century. Now, despite a massive effort to clean up, restore power and make plans to rebuild, the town remains largely uninhabitable.

The historic government shutdown is beginning to stir anxiety in and around Paradise, Calif. The town of about 25,000 people was almost completely destroyed by a deadly wildfire last November and almost everyone and everything directly affected is relying heavily on federal aid.

So far FEMA and Small Business Administration loans do not appear to be affected. But local officials say the shutdown is causing delays in more under-the-radar infrastructure projects, which could have serious, longterm consequences.

Editor's Note: NPR's Kirk Siegler is based temporarily in Butte County, Calif. Along with other reporters, he will be covering the cleanup and recovery effort in and around Paradise. If you want to share your story email natdesk@npr.org with "Paradise" in the subject line.

The quaint, college town and farming hub of Chico is clogged. People are living out of every hotel in town. Campers line neighborhood streets and the country roads that fan out into the walnut and citrus orchards. Every guesthouse and guest room is full.

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When firefighter and Malibu town councilman Rick Mullen got the call last month for the Woolsey Fire, he set in motion a plan his family had long practiced. While he and his crew mobilized to the front lines, his son stayed home and defended their house, even though they were under evacuation orders.

His son and some friends were a small crew who knew what to do, had supplies to survive for days on their own, and they stuck to the plan.

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