PARADISE — Commemorating five years since the Camp Fire, and all that happened since, the ridge community gathered Wednesday at Paradise Community Park to honor losses and successes, and to set its sights going forward.
As part of a weeklong series of events, the day of the anniversary held a distinct sense of awareness of the day that instantly changed thousands of livelihoods.
At 11:08 a.m., several hundred community members from Paradise and the greater Butte County area shared 85 seconds of silence led by Paradise Mayor Greg Bolin.
“In the face of such overwhelming loss, 85 seconds may seem like a brief moment. But it’s a significant one. It’s poignant to remember 85 lives that were taken from us, leaving an indelible mark on our heart and our town,” Bolin said. “In this silence, we reflect on the tremendous support and unity that has defined out community response since the Camp Fire.”
Speakers joined by Bolin were Bruce Yerman, director of the Camp Fire Collaborative, James Gallagher, state assemblyman, and Teri Dubose, district representative for Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s office.
As Bolin and others offered their words, a metal box sat behind them — a time capsule filled with literature, art, mementos, figures and other items were prepared to be sealed.
“Inside we’ve placed mementoes, letters, photographs and other tokens that represent the collective memories of our town,” Bolin said. “As we seal this time capsule today we do so with the knowledge that it will be opened on the 25th (remembrance) of the Camp Fire.
“And we’ll all be there, right?” Bolin said; the audience nodded and laughed. “We will be there. We will be there.”
Gallagher spoke about the days following the fire.
“The skies were dark, abysmal; everybody was in chaos trying to find out what we were doing. … Going around to centers and meeting victims … you could still see they were trying to get hope and give hope to others. And in the darkest of days you see that glimmer of light.”
Gallagher said there have been so many people that have been a part of rebuilding, including Casey Hatcher, who served as the Camp Fire Recovery director at the Butte County Office of Emergency Service and recently passed away.
“When I talk about Paradise around the state … I say the best asset is the people of Paradise. And it’s the people of Paradise that have come together in so many different easy to find a way.
“I’ve been just privileged just to be able to walk beside you and find different ways to help. … All the different stakeholders would say the same thing,” Gallagher said. “Now, five years from that day, there’s a lot of hope up here. There’s a lot of light.
Yerman said the Camp Fire Collaborative has partnered with hundreds of businesses to get more than two thousand people back into homes since the fire.
He spoke of his meeting with a researcher who was interested in Paradise’s community and disaster — telling him, they felt a strong sense of community; something different about Paradise’s “disaster.”
“‘People are friendly to us and they’re’ also friendly to each other and they’re working together,’” Yerman quoted the researcher.
Yerman recalled he and his wife found themselves In Oroville, then Chico staying in homes of strangers, who are now lifelong friends.
“They made food for us. We slept in their bed. They’d ride with us. We were just bewildered.”
Yerman continued speaking about a couple, who offered to make food out of their taco truck for families, even though they’d lost their home themselves.
“I said, ‘didn’t you lose your home?’ And he says, ‘yes, but we want to give in this way,’” Yerman said.
“I have seen that story replay over and over and over again from the Camp Fire until today. And it will continue to play forward. And I think that’s what that researcher was seeing and feeling in this community.”
Later in the ceremony, before Bolin locked the time capsule with a key, he added a final item — a challenge coin with the town seal in the front, and a memo: “Working together to rebuild a thriving community.”
“The Camp Fire is an event that tested the very core in this community. We endured an unimaginable loss, but we also discovered our remarkable strength and power of unity,” Bolin said. “This time capsule is a symbol of that resilience. A testament to the unwavering spirit that binds our community.”
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