If you’re not from Paradise, CA, then you’ve seen the pictures, heard the news stories, and possibly moved onto the next headline of the day. If you called Paradise home, your heart is still broken, the stress is still real, and life is just something that you take one day – or even hour – at a time. In this world of fast food, social media, and Amazon Prime, our attention is short and our needs are met quickly. However, pain, sorrow, and healing don’t move at this lightening speed and we need to take the time to help those in need.
Josh holding a piece of ember that was falling as he was escaping the Camp Fire in Paradise, CA.
As someone who didn’t live in Paradise, I had no idea the of extent of the viciousness of the fire or the panic of a mass exodus of an entire town fleeing using a tiny two lane road. Yes, I heard the large numbers of acres burned, saw family members holding each other for support, and saw the ashy remains of homes and cars, but the whole story became real for me the day I met Josh. His story touched my heart, and I hope it affects you the same way.
Josh, a tall, lanky, thirty-something, is a technology genius with a unique talent for oil painting. He’s shy, humble, and honest, but once you get him to open up, you’ll find a big heart and a gracious spirit.
Josh moved to Paradise nine years ago with his girlfriend and rented a quaint three-bedroom house. His job allowed him to work remotely and to travel frequently, so he chose a life in Paradise to take advantage of it’s low cost living, quiet surroundings, and gorgeous landscape. He filled the walls of his home with his one-of-a-kind oil paintings and enjoyed a simple life with his two cats and a dog.
The morning of November 8 was the start of a nightmare that no one should experience. Josh’s friend called him at 8:00 am to tell him that a massive fire was closing in. Like all Paradise residents, Josh had been on guard due to the reports of high winds and the risk of being surrounded by highly flammable dead Ponderosa Pines. When Josh tried to call 911, he discovered that the phones were dead.
Within the hour the air was a thick fog and by 9:30 a.m., the area was pitch black. Josh’s landlord lived on the neighboring property, so the two teamed together to rake leaves, remove flammable materials from inside the house, and attach a sprinkler to the roof doing everything they could think of to save their property.
Josh realized that with no time to spare, it was time to grab what he could and flee. Josh, his girlfriend, and their three pets hopped into his Mazda only to be trapped by bumper-to-bumper traffic, towering flames, and no passable escape route. More Hollywood movie than reality, cars were shoving each other out of the way, towering pines were falling on vulnerable camper shells only to ignite them instantly into fire balls, and embers were falling from the sky in huge chunks hot enough to melt the paint right off of Josh’s car hood. In this fight or flight chaos, Josh saw some neighbors submit to helplessness and put their heads on their steering wheels to weep while others drove like maniacs pushing other cars out of the way to save themselves.
Four and a half hours later, Josh was finally able to escape flames, but the nightmares and guilt still remain.
Living in the Aftermath
So what does the future look like for Josh and the thousands of Paradise residents who have lost everything?
For Josh, he has no plans of returning to Paradise to live or even find out what’s left of his belongings. While many people have gathered their courage up to face the sparse remains of their homes and memories, Josh says that the emotional pain would be too great. He now struggles from PTSD and the memories of the devastation overwhelm him daily. He has survivor’s guilt since he lived near two convalescent homes and wasn’t able to help the elderly escape. His countless pieces of irreplaceable art are gone along with the tools and supplies that created them. His girlfriend had to move in with her family to help take care of her disabled sister and mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before the fire occurred.
Four days after the fire, Josh purchased a used camper and is now living in it in his friend’s backyard in the Bay Area. He didn’t have renter’s insurance and his landlord didn’t have homeowners insurance. Josh left with the clothes on this back and not much else.
Josh’s story is horrible and unfortunately, far too many people have a similar one. They were just living life, doing the best they can, and then they lost everything due to one of the many California wildfires linked to PG&E. We’ve heard people say “stop pointing fingers” or “lawsuits are just going to cost the people of California more money”. Not true. PG&E needs to be held accountable and they should pay people like Josh who lost everything due to their poorly maintained equipment. If we don’t hold them accountable, who will? Worse yet, how many more Californians will lose their homes or their lives due wildfires started by PG&E power lines?
If you lost everything in Paradise, then you have the huge undertaking of rebuilding your life in Paradise or somewhere else. In either case, you need funding to start over from your insurance company and/or a PG&E potential settlement. Call Periscope Group today at (800) 511-3838 or get in touch now. We want to hear your story and help you get the appropriate compensation if we can.