As Paradise Continues to Rebuild, the Physical and Mental Effects of the Camp Fire Remain

California Connection
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BUTTE COUNTY — Tucked away in a burn-scarred valley, pockets of Paradise show subtle signs of progress.

Ginny Pacheco is one of the many residents who lived on Wheeler Road who comes back regularly to visit the spot where her home once stood. The entire neighborhood was decimated by the Camp Fire in November.

Since then, much of the debris has been cleared out.

“This is probably the last time I’ll see it,” Pacheco said. “Next time I come up, all of this will be gone.”

But even as truckloads of melted plastic and burned brick are carried away, what lingers is trauma and the physical effects on survivors that the Camp Fire left behind.

“All the effects of the fire and what we went through, trying to cope with your mental state. I haven’t gone to anything for that because I just didn’t want to deal with it yet,” Pacheco said.

While she looks for mental health resources, Pacheco says she’s already seen an ear, nose and throat specialist for health issues she attributes to the fire.

But like other fire victims in Paradise, she needs a new primary care doctor and she says finding one in this town, in this moment, has been nearly impossible.

“All my doctors quit that were going here. My chiropractor, I just got a notice that he quit too,” she said. “Everywhere I call, they’re not taking new patients. The one I did call, which I called several months ago, is gonna be July 3.”

Since the Camp Fire forced Feather River Hospital in Paradise to close, Enloe Medical Center CEO Mike Wiltermood says his hospital in Chico has had to take in thousands of extra patients.

“We think over a third of the health care infrastructure of the county was destroyed in the fires,” Wiltermood told FOX40. “We have people that are putting in extra call shifts on the physicians side. We’ve got people doing overtime, some people have put off vacations. The stress level is kind of amping up.”

At times, Wiltermood says, it can be overwhelming.

“We’ve also lost 300 nursing home beds to the fire out of about 800 available nursing homes, so that’s a big chunk. A lot of physicians offices were taken out. Dentists offices, pharmacies. Quite a few outpatient services were lost in the fire as well,” he said.

Emergency room visits at Enloe have increased by nearly 20%.

Though it’s too early to gather data just yet, Wiltermood says FEMA warned him and others that lingering effects from the Camp Fire could cause higher rates of death and suicide in Butte County over the next two years.

“I think the thing to remember is that right now is when people are probably feeling the worst of it,” said Dr. Mehdi Sattari.

Dr. Sattari works in Enloe’s emergency department. He says the fire-related stress alone can often have devastating physical effects, especially for Paradise’s mostly older, retired population.

He says doctors are just now seeing that play out.

“Initially after the event, people ramp up their energies and deal with the immediate event,” Sattari said. “But then several months later is when it really hits people.”

Sattari says the poor air quality after the fire coupled with trauma can quickly manifest as heart or respiratory issues.

“All those things are just stressors that wear down on a person,” he told FOX40.

It’s those types of stressors that worry Pacheco, whether it’s trauma from her narrow escape or the reality of losing the ashes of her late husband and those of her son who died tragically in a car wreck.

She says the Camp Fire isn’t some distant memory she can escape.

“You just can’t move on with your life. You just can’t get another place to live, you just can’t get another doctor,” Pacheco said. “Everything is in gridlock. Your whole life is on hold.”

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