Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Joyce McLean, wearing a hazmat suit, looks through the remains of her home Wednesday in Paradise, Calif. Some residents were finally allowed to return home to sift through the charred remains in search of family heirlooms and other possessions.

Thursday, December 06, 2018 1:00 am

Memories sought in burned town

Associated Press

PARADISE, Calif. – Joyce and Jerry McLean sifted through twisted metal and broken glass Wednesday on the property where their mobile home once stood, hoping to find precious family possessions that might have survived the devastating California wildfire that leveled Paradise.

They were among hundreds of residents who were finally allowed back into neighborhoods on the east side of town a month after the blaze killed at least 85 people and destroyed about 14,000 homes.

The couple, wearing white hazmat suits and leather gloves, searched for his gold wedding band, a Bible that belonged to his great-grandmother and Christmas ornaments made by their son when he was a boy.

“We didn't own expensive things, but we had a lot of memory things,” said Joyce McLean, 73. “If I can find a little piece of his family or just a little piece of my son, I would be happy.”

Earlier in the day, a long line of cars waited in a cold drizzle at a checkpoint to enter areas where evacuation orders had been lifted. Crews in yellow slickers were still clearing debris from burned homes and removing trees from streets littered with melted plastic trash cans and hollowed vehicles on tireless rims.

Some residents have been allowed back into nearby communities in the fire zone, but Wednesday marked the first time residents of Paradise got a firsthand look at what was left of their town of 27,000 people that was hit the hardest by the blaze.

More than 50,000 people in Paradise and the neighboring communities of Magalia and Concow were forced to quickly flee the towering, wind-driven flames. Authorities said 11 people were still unaccounted for in what was the deadliest U.S. wildfire in at least a century.