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6 months after the Camp Fire: A look at Concow's recovery

The Camp Fire burned more than just the town of Paradise. 70% of homes in Concow were lost to the flames.

Posted: May 9, 2019 1:35 PM

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - Action News Now spoke with two families who say they feel lost in limbo six months after the Camp Fire. 

Dan and Bonnie Salmon have lived in Concow for over fifteen years, and are no strangers to wildfires. But they said the Camp Fire was different in that the winds were especially powerful that fateful night, driving the flames a rapid speed from Pulga and across the Concow mountains. 

"It was like...oh my gosh...'boom, boom, boom'...and that's Concow!" Bonnie Salmon recalls. 

Some 500 of the 720 homes in Concow burned to the ground. That's roughly 70% of the town. Six months later, locals say they feel neglected. 

"Our hearts go out to the people of Paradise. But I've heard people [calling it] the Paradise fire...and so a lot of times, people here feel like the red-headed step-child. The forgotten sheep," explains Dan Salmon. 

The Salmons reopened their roadhouse restaurant, Scooter's Cafe, in February. The structure miraculously received minimal damage during the fire. 

"We are a community also," Dan adds, "and when you hear about the clean-up, you see hundreds of trucks leaving Paradise every day. And for months, we didn’t see anyone up here."

Just a short drive away, Robin Clarke, also a long-time Concow resident, tends to cats she rescued from the Camp Fire. Her main home was spared by the flames, but she lost precious family heirlooms and antiques when a shed and several other buildings burned. 

"It’s very detrimental to have to sit through and look at your memories, knowing what was up and what I’ve lost, constantly, every day, constantly," Clarke said. 

Clarke says she turned in her right-of-entry form several months ago. But she is still waiting in a queue with hundreds of others waiting for their properties to be cleaned by the state. 

We asked Justin Jacobs of Cal OES if there is any preferential treatment during the clean-up process, and challenges that could be holding clean-up back. 

"We've had over 30 days of stand down over the last couple of months because it's been too wet," Jacobs explains. "When the soil is that wet and heavy, landfills cannot accept it. Those aren't excuses, but they are delays out of the control of anyone."

Cal OES also said there are 141 debris removal crews in the burn scar area, and that there is no emphasis or preference placed cleaning up one area over another. 

"I want my people to be first," said Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly, who represents Concow and Yankee Hill. He added he was in touch with AT&T and other external agencies involved in the recovery process.

"When the government comes to help, there are always teething problems," Connelly said. "They have this big 50-foot view, but when you get down here, some places are just not appropriate [for clean-up]."

Supervisor Connelly added that he is still waiting for people to submit their right-of-entry forms. The deadline to do so was back on April 15, but he says a letter has been sent as a final warning to those who have not yet made a decision. 

Cal OES tells Action News Now that the state has committed their clean-up program to take roughly a year to complete. There are also no cut and dry rules when it comes to determining the order that parcels are cleaned, though there is some consideration placed in to when right-of-entry forms are submitted. 

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