The numbers of dead and missing continue to rise in what is being called California’s deadliest wildfire.
By Friday, officials said at least 63 people had died. Six hundred thirty-one people are listed as missing from the fire in Northern California. And three people are dead as a result of another fire near Los Angeles in Southern California.
The Sheriff of Butte County said the number of missing people probably includes some who fled the fire. He said he is making the list public so people can let officials know if they survived.
About 52,000 people have fled. They have sought shelter in the homes of friends and relatives, hotels and even in the parking lot of a Walmart store in the town of Chico.
The fire in Northern California began about one week ago in Paradise, a town of 27,000 people.
There is a story about Paradise.
More than 170 years ago, a group of workers enjoyed their break in the forest with the cool air and the fresh smell of pine needles. The team leader commented, “Boys, this is paradise.”
That is, how they say, Paradise was born.
Over generations, thousands of people came to live there. They worked in gold mines and harvested trees from the forests. They built homes, schools, businesses and places of religion.
But, in a few hours last week, much of that was destroyed.
It is estimated that the fire has destroyed 9,000 homes and hundreds of businesses. The Honey Run Covered Bridge, built in 1886, was among the historic structures lost.
Patrick Knuthson’s family has lived in Paradise for four generations. He pointed out the burned-out structures that were once a hotel, a pawn shop, a property office, a liquor store, and an auto repair shop, and his favorite Mexican restaurant.
People who live in Paradise say children could bike to the park and go fishing in the pond. As they got older, they would play in the river or hike in the forests after school.
Kaitlin Norton, whose uncle is still missing, does not know if her home still stands. She told the Associated Press, “We could tell the kids to go outside and play, and be back when the street lights come on.”
Harold Taylor moved to Paradise eight years ago to care for his mother until she died. Taylor said, “The most cherished thing for me about Paradise were the summer nights my mother and I would sit out on the porch under the clear, starry night.”
The Gold Nugget Museum, a reminder of the town's gold-mining past, was damaged.
Each spring there were Gold Nugget Days to mark the discovery of a 54-pound gold nugget in 1859. The people would hold a parade to recreate how miners carried the heavy nugget into town.
“My daughter’s going out for the Gold Nugget Queen this year,” said Krystin Harvey, whose home burned down. “Well, it’s been going on for 100 years, but we don’t know — there’s no town now,” she said.
Tom Hurst is 67 years old. He grew up in Paradise and raised horses at his Outlaw’s Roost ranch. He said, “Paradise is everything the name implies.”
Hurst refuses to talk about the town as something of the past. Some buildings still stand, including the town hall, the 750-seat performing arts center, and the Feather River Hospital.
“Don’t use the word ‘was,’ use the word ‘is,’ because we ain’t done, we’re just getting restarted,” Hurst said.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Martha Mendoza reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted the story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
pawn shop –n. a store that give people money for objects which it then sells
favorite –adj. most liked
cherish –v. to feel or show great love for someone or something
nugget –n. a solid lump of a valuable metal
imply –v. to suggest
ain’t –(informal contraction) am not, is not