Paradise, California, reopened to the general public on Thursday, less than a month after the deadliest fire in state history nearly obliterated the town.
The milestone comes a day after some residents of the Northern California town were allowed to return to the charred remains of their homes to search for heirlooms, photos or other possessions.
“Everything I worked so hard for is gone,” said Jennifer Christensen as she surveyed the ruins, including her 2-year-old son’s burned tricycle in her front yard.
She also found a safe with melted jewelry inside and remnants of the porcelain dolls her grandmother had given her every Christmas.
“I lost my kid’s handprints and footprints from when he was born,” she said. “This is all stuff that can’t be replaced.”
More than 50,000 people in Paradise and the neighboring towns of Magalia and Concow were forced to flee the towering blaze that was sparked Nov. 8. It killed at least 85 people, destroyed about 14,000 homes and scorched an area roughly equal to 10½ Manhattans.
“It seems unfair that some houses make it and yours don’t,” said Tim Moniz, a rice farmer and welder in his 50s, who had recently paid off his mortgage. “I just had to get back up and see it and try to salvage something.”
Crews in Paradise are still working on clearing debris from homes and removing trees from streets. Full removal of debris could take nine months, said Paradise Mayor Jody Jones, who lost her home.
Residents who came back Wednesday were given gloves and hazmat suits and were warned that they shouldn’t move back in until ash and hazardous waste has been cleared.
Authorities also urged returning residents, who planned to spend the night in their cars, to bring food, water and fuel for vehicles since the town will have very limited services in the immediate future.
Ten people are still missing.
With Post wires
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