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6 months after the Camp Fire: Senior survivors

Many of the lives lost in the Camp Fire were either seniors or disabled. Action News Now takes a look at where senior survivors are six months after the Camp Fire.

Posted: May 8, 2019 8:46 PM
Updated: May 9, 2019 1:33 PM

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - The oldest victim of the Camp Fire was 99-year-old Rose Farrell from Paradise. The youngest was 36-year-old Andrew Burt, who died trying to save his stepfather. Six months later we're taking a look inside the lives of senior survivors. 

96-year-old Vilma Castro is blind. She escaped the Camp Fire with the help from her daughter who drove from Magalia to get her. With an Italian accent, Vilma reflects on her life and where it's taken her. Born near Siena, Italy, Vilma has lived through WWII and now survived California's deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, the Camp Fire. 

The morning the Camp Fire broke out, Vilma was on her way to go bowling, until her daughter called her she needs to pack a bag to leave.

"When on the phone she said mom throw things in a bag and just be ready at the door. I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know what I did to tell you the truth," Vilma said she was disoriented. "I put medicine and I put something stupid. Maybe you don't want to.. all I could think of was a package of sanitary napkins."

Vilma and her daughter left the North State and headed to Reno to stay at her grandson's house. Velma lost her home off of Pentz Road in Paradise. When we asked what she misses most about her belongings she said "the people's addresses. I have nothing. I have to start from scratch again."

A month and a half ago, Vilma moved into The Terraces, an assisted living facility in Chico. 

Executive Director Tracy Freudendahl's first day on the job, was the day of the Camp Fire. She said when she came to start work she was offered to stay for a couple of nights at The Terraces until she can find an apartment. After the Camp Fire, all of the apartment rentals were gone and Tracy was forced to live on site for four and a half months. 

"I lived in a studio apartment upstairs so when I got off work I would go upstairs and live in my house. My little studio apartment." Freudendahl said going to work is like seeing 85 of your grandparents. "It's, making a difference in someone's life towards the end of theirs. And it's just an amazing feeling."

Freudendahl helped evacuate 115 residents the night of the fire. In the month of November, The Terraces helped move in 25 Camp Fire survivors in their assisted living center and 36 in their independent living center. 

But Freudendahl said the decision to move into assisted living is not an easy one. 

"It's very difficult living in your own home just you and your husband or just yourself. Doing everything by yourself to all of a sudden communal living." Freudendahl said a lot of these residents, whether they went through the Camp Fire or not, are already dealing with loss. "By the time someone moves into assisted living they've usually lost a spouse. Unfortunately probably a child. They've lost their ability to drive. They've lost their ability whether to dress, bathe themselves even little things as far as opening the medication jar."

In Paradise, you can find June Richardson's home with a for sale sign in front of it. It's a beautiful blue home that looks untouched by the Camp Fire. "It's a hold home. I mean it was built in the '30s and it just came through like a champ," Richardson said with a laugh.

Richardson moved to Paradise in 1965. "Been in this house for September will be 50 years so it's a big move." The move Richardson is referring to is her move to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Richardson said her sister and brother-in-law lost their home and have been living with her ever since. They will move into an assisted living center while she will live with her son in Chattanooga. "It took a while though to just give in and say even though the house is intact, you know I've got to go." 

Richardson said she doesn't have the time for the rebuilding process. "It's been home for a long time. But the whole town is not the same as it was and at my age, I don't have time to wait for it to be Paradise again." 

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