The devastation spreading across the west coast this week is familiar to the residents of Paradise, where in 2018 California’s deadliest fire killed 85 people.
In Paradise today, smoke was again draped over the town like fog. Ash from the nearby North Complex fires piled up on sidewalks and gutters and blew through the air. The new fire has killed 10 people in Berry creek, a nearby foothill hamlet, and largely leveled that town.
At Treasures from Paradise, an antique shop that was destroyed in the fire and reopened in 2019, owners Barbara and Rick Manson had planned to keep the store closed Friday to focus on cleaning up the ash from outside and removing the smell of smoke indoors. But as they worked, customers streamed in, still looking for a slice of normalcy amid another disaster, and the Mansons couldn’t turn them away.
“People came in and wanted to shop, and we said ‘come on in’,” Barbara said as a handful of customers walked around the store, admiring the small bits of antiques and inspecting the Paradise themed-goods, T-shirts and metal signs. “We’re gonna be here as long as the place doesn’t burn down around us.”
Paradise isn’t considered at risk at this point, though earlier in the week, officials issued an evacuation warning for parts of Paradise. At that point, the Mansons, who live in Chico but have run an antique store on the Ridge for decades, came and gathered their important paperwork. The shop was dark due to a power shutoff, and traffic piled up outside, reminiscent of that Thursday morning in November 2018 when thousands had to flee all at once. The couple is optimistic, and think Paradise will be safe, but still are preparing for any possibility. Rick has been watering the grass and around the building to protect in the event of another fire.
“A lot of people are hurting. I think people thought the fires were behind us,” Barbara said.
At Nic’s, a restaurant that Nicki Jones, 75, opened just last year, diners ate their food at socially-distanced tables and neighbors and friends ran into one another. Butte county announced this week that restaurants could open for indoor dining as smoke from the 252,534 acre wildfire created unhealthy air, though by mid-afternoon it would rescind that order.
Jones, whose new home is expected to be move-in ready next month, said that despite the threat of fire and ongoing risk, she was committed to Paradise. The business was doing well, though faced challenges from Covid, she said.
“I love what I do and I love my town,” she said. “That keeps me going.”