Rebuilding After Tragedy in Paradise

August 31, 2021
“It’s heartbreaking to see what happened,” said IRT volunteer Ken Marsh about the devastated town of Paradise, CA.

The entire town of Paradise in northern California was destroyed by the Camp Fire in 2018. These wildfires were the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history. About 30,000 families lost their homes and their livelihoods.

Ken and seven other dedicated IRT volunteers went to Paradise for two weeks in July to rebuild homes for families who lost everything. After being on hold throughout 2020 due to the pandemic, this was IRT’s first volunteer construction team to deploy in 2021.

This group of eight volunteers was thrilled to be rebuilding again. “We are happy to finally be out helping people again. That’s what we love to do,” said long time IRT volunteer John Zawis.
The volunteer team helped to build three homes over two weeks. They worked through the intense July heat and the smoky, hazy air conditions caused by the Dixie Fire burning nearby.
“It’s very rewarding. Now I am retired so I am able to give back and this is one of the ways I do it. We love it. We all do. We work hard and we enjoy doing it,” said Ken.

Many families in Paradise who lost their homes are struggling to begin rebuilding. Paradise is made up of many low-income, retired families who moved to the remote mountain town to live a simpler and more affordable lifestyle.

“That fire changed people, it didn’t just take our stuff. It affected every one of us. It changed us," said Paradise resident Steve “Woody” Culleton at a town council meeting. "We are suffering from PTSD, depression, what have you.”

Many residents are still waiting for their settlement money from PG&E, the California power company that admitted responsibility for the fire. Because many Paradise residents are living on a fixed budget, are low-income, retired, or elderly, they cannot afford to recover on their own without these settlement funds.

Volunteer John Zawis captured this photo of smoke from the nearby Dixie Fire, now considered the second largest in California’s history.
“We provide free labor,” said Ken.

International Relief Teams, in partnership with Hope Crisis Response Network, is building homes from the ground up for these families that desperately want to rebuild their homes and their lives in Paradise.  

“I’m waiting. I’m barely surviving, and I’m waiting,” said Larry Graham, another Paradise resident who lost his home and everything he owned in the fire.
The volunteers have become very close friends after many years of serving together on construction teams.

IRT began rebuilding homes destroyed by2018 California wildfires in 2019. IRT will deploy three more teams to Paradise in 2021 and we will continue to send volunteer teams to fire-ravaged communities as long as they are needed.

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