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Paradise residents who relocated after devastating Camp Fire continue to face extreme weather risks

Paradise, California – Extreme weather has battered main streets across America, and in the past five years at least five cities in four states have been nearly wiped off the map, all since Paradise in Northern California fell.

“At first I thought we might evacuate for a day or two and then come back home,” Justin Miller told CBS News.

Justin Miller’s childhood home in Paradise was among nearly 20,000 homes and businesses destroyed by the war Campfire 2018, which killed 85 people. He is one of many who chose not to return, and now lives in nearby Oroville.

“At first we thought, you know, after the lot was cleared, we could rebuild there,” Miller said. “But… then we realized it would take a while to rebuild the city, so it would just be easier to move somewhere like here in Oroville.”

About 2.5 million Americans were driven from their homes by extreme weather last year, according to the US Census Bureau. Research from Realtor.com published in March found that 44% of all U.S. homes are threatened by climate change.

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“Paradise was that place for my family in the 1990s where they could afford their own small house,” says Ryan Miller, Justin’s older brother and a Ph.D. candidate in geography who now studies climate migration.

“Why were we in a situation where the affordable place was also the place of this enormous danger?” asks Ryan. “And so I really started looking at Paradise through the lens of these broader issues around housing affordability and exposure to climate-related risks.”

Ryan and his team at the University of California, Davis, used postal data to track where people moved after the Camp Fire. What they found was that in many cases a measure did not solve the problem, but put people back at risk, with households moving to areas that were also threatened by other types of disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

“We may be in a situation where people increasingly find that in their search for affordable housing, they more or less have to live in an area that is exposed to one of these climate-induced hazards,” Ryan said.

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“We’re going to see more potential Paradises happening, where we’re exposing these communities to this threat that the community may not be prepared for,” Ryan added.

Paradise residents Kylie Wrobel and her daughter Ellie, stayed in paradise after the Camp Fire, largely picking up the pieces themselves by clearing dead trees and vegetation from their properties while they applied and waited for federal assistance.

They say home now has a new meaning for them.

“Home for me was kind of like a place where you live, but home will always be where my mom is,” Ellie said.

Five years later, Paradise families have been scattered and the fabric of this small town has been torn. But don’t tell that to the Wrobels, pioneers of a new American community that they hope can withstand climate-induced storms.

“Watching the city grow and build, my heart needed this,” Kylie said. “A lot of people don’t want to come back here anymore. I had to stay here.”

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