- It’s been nearly a month since the Camp Fire broke out in Northern California on November 8.
- The blaze killed at least 85 people, and quickly became the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California’s recorded history.
- Residents are being allowed to return home to the charred town of Paradise this week.
- A 360-degree video captured the week after the fire broke out reveals just how little is left of the town.
The flames from the Camp Fire are gone, but they’ve left an eerie scene of ashen devastation in Paradise, California, where hundreds of residents are now heading home for the first time in nearly a month. Many people are returning to homes that have been reduced to piles of ash and concrete lawn ornaments, in a town that was all but swallowed whole by flames just hours after the fire broke out on November 8.
“Everything I worked so hard for is gone,” resident Jennifer Christensen told the Associated Press as she took stock of what little was left of her home on Wednesday.
Residents were given kits with gloves and hazmat suits, the AP reported, as ash and hazardous waste are still being cleared out of town.
Photojournalist Steve Cooper, who drove up from his home in Santa Cruz to survey the damage in November, said when he arrived in Paradise the town was abandoned, and the smoke was still thick, gray, and stinky. Visibility was about a half mile, at best.
“You could taste it,” Cooper told Business Insider. “You’re smelling a mix of wood… burnt plastic, burnt pesticide smells, metals. It was such an intense smell.”
He captured the scene in an immersive 360-degree video taken from the roof of his SUV. Though smoke kept Cooper from seeing too far off into the distance, all the typical suburban sight line barriers were gone: no homes obstructed his view as he surveyed the devastating scene.
“A quarter of a mile across, you could see nothing but chimneys standing up, or… concrete garden sculptures, like a garden gnome or a concrete deer,” Cooper said. “The spiritual shot through the heart that this town took because of this fire was just indescribable.”
He says it’s tough to imagine how people might now move back into the town that was home to 27,000 people just last month – an abandoned place where people burned to death in their cars trying to escape the flames.
“It’d be like moving into the funeral home,” Cooper said. “Where somebody that was close to you had their wake.”
You can click around in the video below to see a 360-degree view of what Cooper saw on his trip to Paradise. Check out the scene around 5 minutes in to the film, when rescue crews working with a cadaver-sniffing dog scan a transect of land for human remains.
The cause of the Camp Fire is still being investigated, but sparking power lines may have played a role in the blaze.
At least two separate class-action lawsuits have been filed against California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). One suit was filed in Butte County in November, and another was brought on Wednesday in a San Francisco Superior Court.
Lawyer Erin Brockovich, who recently visited Paradise, said she cried while attending some community meetings there.
“I can’t help it,” she told Business Insider. “I just feel really bad, and I’m super frustrated because it looks like this was PG&E again.”
The power company maintains that the cause of the fire is still being investigated. PG&E says the company will restore power to “nearly all customers who can receive electric service by the end of December 2018.”