It was a thriving town of 27,000, and now it’s smouldering ash; here’s how Paradise, California, became a fire trap

  • Paradise, California, has been at risk to fires for decades, despite not being hit by a wildfire until last week’s deadly Camp Fire.
  • The city created an evacuation plan in 2008, though its roads make it difficult to escape.
  • The Camp Fire’s death toll in Northern California is 42, but its expected to rise as hundreds of people remain missing.

The Camp Fire obliterated the Northern California town of Paradise last week, where flames leveled thousands of structures and killed dozens of people.

It has long been known that the town, with a population of 27,000 is in a high-risk fire severity zone. But until last Thursday, a wildfire had never crossed city limits, and the town continued to boom for decades, The Los Angeles Times reported.

According to fire history maps seen by the LA Times, nearly all of Butte County has been hit by fires in the last 100 years.

The closest fire to Paradise before this year was in 2008, when the Humbolt fire destroyed 87 homes at the edge of town.

Read more:
Satellite images show how the Camp Fire destroyed entire towns and killed dozens of people

It was then that Paradise officials decided to create an evacuation plan, after residents were caught in massive highway traffic jams surrounded by fiery hills.

The then-chairman of the Paradise Ridge Fire Safety Council said the solution included a timed evacuation for different sections of the city, and turning two-way streets into one-way evacuation zones.

But the roads in Paradise are winding, and were built for gold miners and railroads decades ago. The infrastructure made getting people out of the city quick difficult.

Now nearly the entire city is under a “very high” fire risk, according to county emergency plans seen by the LA Times.

Read more:
The death toll from California’s fires has risen to 44, with thousands of homes destroyed in Malibu and Northern California

Despite the threat of fire, Paradise continued to grow – with a 2017 median home value of $US200,900, the town attracted thousands of people over time.

The population of Paradise is now 27,000, nearly 20,000 more than it was just four decades ago.

The town regularly warns residents of fire risks by mailing out evacuation maps and detailed plans for important documents and pets, but the warnings weren’t able to prevent many being trapped by the fire.

This week officials are digging through the rubble to try to find victims of the Camp Fire who were unable to get out.

The death toll now is 42, but its expected to rise as hundreds of people remain missing.

So far, the fire has burned 125,000 acres and was just 30% contained as of Tuesday morning.

Authorities plan to bring two mobile morgue units to the town and are requesting a team of 150 search and rescue personnel, The Associated Press reported.