Fear of contaminating precious local water sources is one way devastating wildfires continue to be felt in communities in Butte County, where the debris of burnt homes from recent fires sits near a watershed used by many in Northern California.
Meteorologist Emily Heller says the weather lately reminds her of what Northern California saw in 2018 just before the Camp Fire set the town of Paradise ablaze. For weeks, there was no rain, excessive heat, and dry winds.
A study on a pipe to carry water from Paradise to Chico will be back before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
The $144,000 study to see if the project was feasible was first approved on a 4-1 vote by the supervisors on Sept. 10.
Half the cost would be paid out of a $1.1 million Proposition 1 grant the county received to study ways to reduce reliance on groundwater, as required by a recent state law.
Since last November, when the Camp Fire almost completely destroyed the town of Paradise, the cancer-causing chemical benzene has tainted the town’s water, leaving it undrinkable. Now an independent team of scientists will begin testing for the carcinogen and other pollutants inside the houses that the fire left standing.
“The main goal is to really understand what’s going on, basically, and to address any issues that come up,” environmental health investigator Dr. Gina Solomon told residents at a recent Paradise Irrigation District meeting.
Highly flammable nonnative plants have increasingly played a major role in Southern California’s struggles with wildfire — providing kindling along roadsides and around homes that turn sparks into menacing backcountry blazes.
San Diego firefighting officials plan to dramatically ramp up efforts to rip out vegetation, both native and invasive, surrounding remote communities as part of a statewide campaign to prevent tragedies such as the Camp Fire in Paradise.
Crews from the Fallbrook Public Utility District are helping rebuild water services in Paradise, Calif. after the devastating November 2018 Camp Fire.
The Camp Fire burned 153,336 acres, destroyed 18,793 structures, caused 85 deaths and three firefighter injuries. The Camp Fire is the deadliest, most destructive fire in California’s history, according to CAL FIRE.
Colter Shannon and Austin Wendt left the FPUD yard Sept. 22 to make the 565-mile, 10-hour drive to Paradise. On Sept. 29, two more FPUD crew members, Toby Stoneburner and Matt Perez, will depart for the Butte County town. Each two-member team will spend two days driving and five days working on repairs for a total of seven days.
“I just want to help,” said Wendt. “That town went through devastation and I can actually do something to physically help. My wife and I always send backpacks to places devastated by hurricanes. For the most recent one, we sent 25 backpacks stuffed with school supplies.”
San Diego water agencies help Paradise Irrigation District
The Paradise Irrigation District is still struggling to repair the damaged infrastructure that resulted in more than 10,500 customers being issued a “do not drink” water advisory.
Two other San Diego County water agencies recently helped Camp Fire recovery efforts. Six water professionals from the Helix Water District and Padre Dam Municipal Water District spent one week in August assisting the Paradise Irrigation District.
Fallbrook PUD crews will bring back lessons learned to community
“We’re doing this because we recognize that we are in a fire-prone area here in Fallbrook,” said Jack Bebee, FPUD general manager.
The Rice Fire in 2007 burned 206 homes, 9,472 acres, two commercial properties, and 40 outbuildings in the Fallbrook area. Bebee said he knows Fallbrook may one day need the help the crews are now providing to Paradise.
He said the crews can bring back with them some of the lessons they learn from the destruction and repair work. Bebee said the district is also working with North County Fire on emergency preparedness and the FPUD board room has been set up as an emergency command center in the event it is needed.
The Camp Fire in the community of Paradise and other locations in Butte County cut a wide swatch of destruction in the rural community. It is regarded as the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. At least 85 perish in the fire storm and it destroyed 18,804 structures. It covered almost 240 sq. miles and total damages have been estimated at $16.5 billion.
An idea to pipe water from Paradise to Chico took its first step Wednesday, when the Paradise Irrigation District board signed off on a feasibility study for the proposal.
The plan might seem far-fetched at first glance, but it would solve a couple of problems. In the short-term, PID needs someone to buy its water in order to stay solvent, as most of its customers were burned out by the Camp Fire last November. In the long-term, California Water Service’s Chico Division needs an additional source of water to ease its complete dependence on wells.
A six-man crew from East County will be making a trek to help the Paradise Irrigation District in northern California. Four field employees from Helix Water District and two from Padre Dam Municipal Water District will leave Aug. 18 and spend five days in the Butte County town of Paradise, which was gutted last November when the Camp Fire scorched more than 150,000 acres and burned down nearly every building in town, about 19,000 structures. At least 85 people died with dozens more injured in the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. As it recovers and rebuilds, safe drinking water is one of Paradise’s major challenges.
Tammy Waller thought she was one of the lucky ones after her home in Magalia survived California’s most destructive wildfire ever, but her community remains a ghostly skeleton of its former self. Hazmat crews are still clearing properties, and giant dump trucks haul away toxic debris. Signs on the water fountains in the town hall say, “Don’t drink.” Waller remembers the day she came back home after the Camp Fire. “When I first walked in, I went to my kitchen sink and turned on the water, and it was just literally black,” Waller says.