Return to the Ridge
In a couple of weeks, two years will have passed since the Camp Fire started in Butte County. As the CN&R editorial team has discussed the anniversary, it’s hit me that I have spent very little time in Paradise since those initial weeks covering the fire there. In fact, other than driving through to purchase a used car in Magalia a few weeks ago, I can remember going up there only one other time—for another fire-related story—since the immediate aftermath.
It makes sense. Most of the people I knew who lived there don’t anymore, and nearly all of the arts-related activity that is my usual beat is either on extended pause or has ceased altogether.
I had another Camp Fire-related assignment on the Ridge this week, so I decided to stick around afterward and just be in Paradise. My go-to solo adventure in the town in recent years has been to get lost in the tangle of gear crammed into the tiny Steve’s Music shop on the Skyway. Owner Jamey Knobles has always overstocked the place with cool guitars, amplifiers and effects pedals—some of it vintage, some of it oddball, some of it junk, none of it new. It’s perfect … rather, it was perfect. When I pulled up to Steve’s on Thursday (Oct. 22), there was a jewelry store/travel agency in its place.
I knew that Knobles had lost his home, but the shop had survived the fire mostly unscathed and was still in operation last I’d checked. However, according to the Steve’s Music Facebook page, it turns out he closed the place more than a year ago.
I obviously shouldn’t have waited so long to visit. Dang.
I went across the street to Nic’s restaurant to try and fill the emptiness inside; was tempted by the rosemary grilled cheese; chose the Avocado Green Goddess instead; received an immense helping of comfort courtesy of the wholesome sandwich; and then went back down the hill.
My leisure time was a letdown, but my work hours in town proved much more uplifting. Earlier that morning, I went to a groundbreaking ceremony for Paradise Community Village, which is being rebuilt on the same site where the previous version of the 36-unit affordable housing property burned to the ground during the Camp Fire.
A project of the Community Housing Improvement Program(CHIP), the apartment community was the first affordable housing property in the town when it was first completed in 2013 and it will be the first to return when it’s completed in November of 2021.
The village’s original contractor, Chico’s Sunseri Construction, won the bid again and actually started the rebuild during the summer (full disclosure: my sister Heather Post works for Sunseri). An earlier groundbreaking was postponed due to wildfire smoke, something that Kris Zappettini, CHIP vice president and director of rental housing, referenced during the press conference at the rescheduled one. As she presented a ceremonial pink-flowered crepe myrtle that had to wait for its moment through weeks of intensely smokey conditions, Zappettini pointed out that, though the little tree might be not look as vibrant as when she bought it, it was proving to be a fittingly resilient new addition to the Ridge.
“We will replant this tree. We will give it the ground to grow roots and to establish itself and flourish, and we think that’s the same thing that’s going to happen when the individuals and families return to this property,” she said. “They will create roots, they will establish themselves and grow and thrive with affordable housing.”
There haven’t been many Camp Fire assignments that were accompanied by good feelings, let alone hope. I can’t imagine how much of the latter will fill the hearts of those crossing the thresholds of their new homes on move-in day.
Oh, and I am already planning another leisure visit Paradise. I’ve told Mrs. DEVO that we need to get up there in time to hit up Noble Orchards for a box of apples before they shut down for the season (open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., through Oct. 31). The main reason for me, of course, is that rosemary grilled cheese I passed up at Nic’s. Its gruyere, white cheddar, havarti, tomato slices, rosemary butter and sourdough bread are calling me back to the Ridge.
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