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Paradise evacuees return to charred homes almost one month after deadly Camp fire

Paradise evacuees return to charred homes almost one month after deadly Camp fire
Kathy Tyler gets a hug from a friend Russ Vaugh after they work to recover what was left of the Tyler home. Kathy and her late husband, Charles, had lived in the area since 2002. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Vicki Taylor wiped her tears with ash-covered hands, leaving a trail of black soot on her face.

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Her white face mask shielded her from the toxic debris floating in the air as she kicked away the charred wood and melted steel beams, revealing the remnants of a wooden shed Taylor’s husband had built.

“We have to rebuild,” she declared. “There’s too many memories of my husband here.”

Taylor’s husband died after losing a battle with cancer more than a year ago. Now she’s lost her house of 21 years and the many memories it contained. She pointed to a cement frame next to where her pond once was.

“My husband built that too,” she said.

Four weeks after the Camp fire, J'Anna Alstad was finally reunited with her cat, Snickers, who was found up a tree near her burned down home in Paradise.
Four weeks after the Camp fire, J'Anna Alstad was finally reunited with her cat, Snickers, who was found up a tree near her burned down home in Paradise. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Taylor, 60, arrived in Paradise on Wednesday morning to view her home on Pentz Road. She had received an automated phone call from authorities informing her that she’d be able to return to her property for a 24-hour period before the area was opened to the public.

It was the first time in nearly a month that residents were able to return to properties on the eastern side of town. A large portion of the town still remains under evacuation orders. In the nearby town of Concow, roughly 500 residents were given permission to return earlier in the week.

Traffic into Paradise was moving slowly Wednesday. Before residents entered town, they were given gloves, breathing masks and white body suits so that they could safely look through debris.

Although Taylor knew weeks ago from drone video that her house was destroyed, she was still anxious to see it for herself and salvage whatever belongings she could find.

Vicki Taylor, far right, and her family go through their home on Merrill Road in Paradise.
Vicki Taylor, far right, and her family go through their home on Merrill Road in Paradise. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Taylor’s daughter, Jen, dusted off a small bronzed shoe. It was one of a handful of items, including silverware and pottery, that the family was thankful to find.

Up the street, Ben Vasquez, 21, drove his grandparents Gary, 79, and Moureen Syffert, 75, to Paradise after finding out on Facebook that authorities had lifted evacuation orders.

The Syfferts lost two homes in Paradise.

They had just moved to Ridgewood Mobile Home Park and were in the process of remodeling their other house in Paradise to sell it when the deadly Camp fire tore through town.

Now they’re not sure if they want to return. “We are too old to start over,” Gary Syffert said. The couple are living with their daughter in Chico while they look to buy a mobile home in Oroville.

Some Paradise residents said they didn’t receive a notification from authorities that they could return.

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Ann Rahlf sifts through the remains of her home in Paradise. She is grateful that her husband, David, made it out alive.
Ann Rahlf sifts through the remains of her home in Paradise. She is grateful that her husband, David, made it out alive. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Ann Rahlf, 63, and her husband David, 64, quickly drove up to Paradise on Wednesday after their daughter texted them that they could return.

“I found out this morning,” Ann Rahlf said as she waded through ankle-deep debris.

Recalling the Camp fire is difficult for her. On the day she lost her house Rahlf was at a UC San Francisco hospital waiting for her 38-year-old son, who is terminally ill with melanoma, to go into surgery.

As she sat in the waiting room of the hospital her husband texted her that he was evacuating. The trees next to their house had already caught on fire and he didn’t have much time to escape.

“I kept saying, ‘No, no, no,’” Ann recalled. “I lost this building and my stuff, but I have my family.”

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