Family Begins Long Process of Picking Up the Pieces after the Camp Fire

PARADISE -- Thousands of families were left with nothing after the Camp Fire raged through Butte County and almost completely wiped out the town of Paradise.

It is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

FOX40 is following one family over the next year as they take the long journey toward recovery.

The Ritza family used to drive Pentz Road daily.

"What's gonna be left?" Tasha Ritza asked as they made their way back to where their home stood.

It's been over a month since the Camp Fire swept through their community, destroying thousands of buildings -- including their two family homes. They returned for the first time on Dec. 13 to see first-hand what they had lost.

"Just seeing it, pictures don't do it justice," Rhonda Ritza said. "Just seeing it is so much worse."

They are now digging through the rubble in hopes of finding a glimpse of their old life.

"It's so depressing. It's like you want to dig for your jewelry. It was my grandmother’s and I don’t know if I’ll ever find it," Nicole Ritza said.

Rhonda moved to Paradise 25 years ago to raise her three daughters, Ashley, Nicole and Tasha.

"My husband was killed in a motorcycle accident," she said. "I just wanted to raise them in a small place."

Rhonda's girls grew up and had kids of their own. But their dreams were put on hold the morning of Nov. 8, when the sky turned black and flames swallowed their town.

"My daughter, Skielar, she's screaming and crying, 'Let's go, mom, we're going to die,'" Ashley Ritza said.

Ashley loaded her mother and her daughter into their cars the morning of the fire, calling her sisters frantically and telling them to evacuate.

"I was unable to hear from them for hours," Ashley said.

She and many others were trapped in traffic on Skyway, one of the only ways in or out of town.

"I saw a young man pushing an 83-year-old in a wheelchair. I’m like, there’s no way," Ashley said. "So I told my daughter, 'Run to grandma’s car,' and I took the elderly lady, I pretty much threw her in my car."

She drove, surrounded by fire, until she made it out safely. Her whole family did.

"We’re all alive. Every day they say, 'How are you doing?' And I say, 'Well, I woke up alive today,'" Nicole said.

Now, they find strength in the things that made it through the fire.

"My dad gave us all a pen set, a pen and pencil. It had his name engraved on it," Nicole said.

That set was one of the few things that survived the fire.

"I think he's watching over us," Nicole said.

While the Ritzas don’t know what the future holds for their family, they do know they’re in this together.

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