(FOX40.COM) — Before November 2018, Brenda Kountz couldn’t ask for more.
“I was a Lyft driver and I also worked for an answering service,” she said.
But these days, she’ll take anything she can get.
“All [of] that has [been] taken away.”
Five years ago, the Camp Fire destroyed about 11,000 homes. A half decade later, a picture of the rubble of her former home symbolizes her current life.
While others rebuild, this Camp Fire survivor is just trying to get by. Help from the government has ended, so now she has turned to the public.
“I didn’t have insurance so I relied strictly on FEMA,” Kountz remarked.
She continued, “I have a GoFundMe because I had a medical emergency.”
Kountz no longer lives in Paradise. A path that many others have followed.
Before the fire, the town had a population of around 26,000. In 2023, that number stands at about one-third of what it once was.
“We’re at 9,142 as of last January,” said Collette Curtis, the recovery and economic development director of Paradise.
Curtis tells FOX40 that over the past couple of years, her town has been the fastest growing of any area in California.
“We have about 700 homes under construction at any given time, so we are really growing rapidly,” Curtis said.
•Zonehaven, CAL FIRE and NIXLE: Websites you can use for wildfire information
•‘AlertCalifornia’ live cams to provide more insight into natural disasters
•These are the items to include in your emergency kit in case of a disaster
That home construction also comes with new standards to make sure a future fire cannot duplicate the horrors of 2018.
“The town of Paradise has gone out and really looked for the scientist-based information on what reduces the risk the most.
Curtis continued, “We have really been informed by the IBHS-wildfire prepared home standard, which was actually rolled out in paradise last summer.”
IBHS stands for Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
Dr. Ian Giammanco is the managing director for standards and data analytics at the institute.
Over Zoom, he broke down to FOX40 some of the keys to rebuilding a safer community.
“Probably the most defensible space piece is that 0 to 5 foot zone that’s around your house going outward 5 feet. That’s where embers like to accumulate,” said Giammanco.
“It’s also the last link that brings fire to your home. The best solution is no combustible materials in that zone, which breaks the chain of fire coming to your house,” he added.
One of the big issues the morning of the Camp Fire was getting the word out about the coming danger.
For that, the town has installed new warning sirens.
The other problem that day was the efficiency of a mass evacuation, which is being improved, according to Curtis.
“We also have undergone a transportation master plan, where we have looked at all of our roadways to determine how we can improve evacuation on these roadways, and we’re starting on those projects as well,” she said.
While work continues on the town, Brenda Kountz will work on surviving, regardless of the reminders of that fateful day.
“And just mentally it has been a struggle. I still have a lot of triggers with smoke or hearing fire engines or things like that. They still trigger you,” she said.
The Camp Fire was once the deadliest fire in U.S. history. Now, it’s the second after the recent fires in Maui.
Paradise leaders know the pain, but with the tragedy comes insight, which is knowledge Curtis said they are happy to share.
“[We’ve] been in touch with Lahaina very often since their fire and sharing some of those missteps, some of those successes to really help them as they start their recovery and they say start because they are still in response. The recovery is going to be very long, just like ours.
The GoFundMe for Kountz can be found here.