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California town destroyed by 2018 fire raises $7,000 for Lytton residents

Mayor of Paradise has a message for Lytton evacuees: 'Don't give up'

A California town devastated by fire in 2018 has banded together to raise over $7,000 for Lytton residents.

Steve Crowder was appointed councillor of Paradise, Calif., back in 2018. Two days later, the 180,000-acre Camp fire burned through the town, destroying 95 per cent of the homes and leaving 27,000 people with nothing.

“I left my home that day with [the] clothes on my back and that was it,” he says. 

Two and a half years later, he’s now the mayor of Paradise. When he heard Lytton had been destroyed by fire, he reached out to the B.C. village's mayor.

“We lost everything, as did Lytton. It was something that got to me,” says Crowder. “As I hung up, I just knew there was something we had to do to help.” 

When Paradise burned, millions of dollars in donations poured into the town. Gift cards for gas, groceries and the hardware store were handed out to the California town’s residents, simple acts of compassion Crowder says went a long way.  

The road to rebuilding has been slow. Like Lytton, Paradise was shut off from the outside for about six weeks due to all the contamination. The next nine months were spent cleaning up the debris before anyone started rebuilding. Nobody moved back for 18 months.

“We have a long ways to go yet. But two and a half years later, we’re at 6,000 in population. We’ve got 1,000 building permits ongoing now.”

Rebuilding has meant building smarter. Gone are the utility poles that blocked two evacuation routes in 2018. Instead, electrical lines have been buried underground. 

Homes are all built to the highest wildland-urban interface standard.

“We’re hardening against fires. We’re requiring a 100-foot defensible space around each home,” says Crowder. “We’re going to have the best of the best schools.”

Still, the memories of the 2018 fire linger. Today, the Salt wildfire currently burns about an hour and a half away from Paradise. For some, it’s affected their mental health.

“We think about fire when we see smoke. It definitely gets in people's heads,” the mayor tells Glacier Media. “It brings up memories. People have some PTSD.”

The other side of that pain are memories of solidarity. Crowder says $2 million in donations came in through the Rotary Club when Paradise burned. 

Now, looking to return the favour, Crowder says his community has come together, raising over $7,000 since the Lytton fire. That money will be transferred to the Chilliwack Rotary Club, where it will be distributed to survivors of the Lytton fire. The residents of Paradise still plan on fundraising for another 10 days. 

On Tuesday, Crowder will ask the city to issue a proclamation of solidarity with Lytton. Along with the money, he says personal notes will be sent from his community to evacuees.

His message: “It may not seem like it now, but there is hope. The biggest thing that I can say is don’t give up.”