Residents in Paradise, Calif., are still sifting through the rubble in the wake of the Camp Fire.

© Courtesy of Michael Zuccolillo

Residents in Paradise, Calif., are still sifting through the rubble in the wake of the Camp Fire, which tore through the town in November.

Wildfire Victims, Left Homeless, Struggle With Next Moves

December 5, 2018

Jim Cronin and his wife, Monte, hadn’t planned on moving from the little yellow house in Paradise, Calif., where they had lived since getting married more than 13 years ago. They once considered trading up to a bigger property but decided it was the best place to raise their 6-year-old son. Then, their plans for the future vanished on Nov. 8, when the biggest wildfire in California history incinerated most of the town and left thousands of people—including the Cronins—homeless. “It still doesn’t feel quite real,” Cronin said. “We always thought it was just our first home, but the more we lived in it, the more it became who we are.”

Jim Cronin's house before the Camp Fire

© Courtesy of Jim Cronin

Cronin, who runs an online company that builds websites for real estate professionals, and his family were able to find temporary housing in another community. But other residents driven out of Paradise by the Camp Fire weren’t as lucky. Faced with the loss of both their homes and livelihoods, many who lived in the Northern California town are struggling to afford necessities and have no idea where they will go next. Some are even living in tents. “Our biggest problem is a lack of housing,” says Michael Zuccolillo, broker-owner of Simplistic Realty and president-elect of the Paradise Association of REALTORS®. “The big question is how we’re going to find the money to rebuild. There are so many unknowns when an entire town is just wiped off the map.”

Jim Cronin's house after the Camp Fire

© Courtesy of Jim Cronin

Jim Cronin's house, shown before the Camp Fire in the top photo, was burned to the ground in the blaze. The bottom photo shows the remnants.

The state association is working with the National Association of REALTORS® to provide emergency funds to victims of the Camp Fire, which burned through Northern California, and the Woolsey Fire, which ravaged communities in Southern California. The REALTORS® Relief Foundation has provided the California Association of REALTORS® with $1 million, which will be used to help victims with mortgage and rent payments. NAR covers administrative costs for the foundation, which has raised more than $29 million since its inception following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

CAR is currently accepting and processing applications for relief grants, says spokeswoman Lotus Lou. In addition, CAR’s Disaster Relief Fund has raised $133,000 to help REALTORS® and their families impacted by the fires, Lou says. The association has committed to matching up to $250,000 in contributions to the fund. “It’s going to be very tough for people to get back on their feet, and our goal is to let them know we’re thinking of them and praying for them,” CAR President Jared Martin says. “Other than supporting members through our disaster relief fund and supporting members of the community through [the RRF commitment], I’m at a loss for what we can do. I’m aghast at what has happened.”

Richard Mendenhall and Martin Edwards, the 2001 and 2002 NAR presidents, respectively, spearheaded the creation of the RRF. Edwards, who serves as president of the foundation’s board of directors, emphasizes that the fund’s ability to help victims of the unfolding disaster in California stems from fundraising efforts that took place long before the wildfires. Those efforts must continue so the fund is ready to respond to future disasters. “If not for funds raised in the past, we wouldn’t have had the funds to react [to the wildfires],” Edwards says, adding that the RRF is committed to helping people affected by disasters long after the events have faded from the national consciousness. “We’re in the home business, and when there are tragedies, we help people with the place they call home.”

Zuccolillo, who serves on the Paradise town council, says people who own property there are going to face tough decisions about what to do with their land or buildings. “The hardest part is figuring out the vision. What’s the market going to look like? What are houses going to be worth?” he says. “No one wants to live in a war zone.”

Cronin says the reality of having to rebuild is unlike anything he could have imagined. “We woke up and were told to leave our house for our safety, and then we were told it was gone,” he says. “I now have a full-time job making decisions” about what comes next.