Mayor Of Paradise, Calif., Says Her Town Is Determined To Rebuild After Wildfire
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A week ago today, Jody Jones won re-election to the town council of Paradise, Calif. She's currently the mayor. Now Paradise is gone. The wildfire that destroyed Paradise is now officially the deadliest and largest in California history. It has killed more than 40 people. First responders are going through the ruins of Paradise looking for the missing. And like other survivors, Mayor Jody Jones has evacuated. She joins us from nearby Chico.
Thank you for your time today.
JODY JONES: Oh, thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: Have you been able to get back into Paradise since the fire passed through?
JONES: I have. I toured the devastation on Friday.
SHAPIRO: And what did it look like?
JONES: It looked like a war zone really, especially in the residential neighborhoods. I would say about 90 percent of the homes in the residential neighborhoods are gone.
SHAPIRO: This is a place with a population of 26,000 people. Where did all of those people go?
JONES: Well, we're all scattered now in Chico, in Oroville, as far away as Woodland and Corning. I'm in my motor home in a vacant lot.
SHAPIRO: I can't imagine what it's like to be the mayor of a town that, in some sense, no longer physically exists if more than 90 percent of the buildings have been destroyed.
JONES: The residential area.
JONES: Now, the business district, I would say, is more like 50 percent.
JONES: And we have some key things that are still standing that will help us to rebuild. We still have a high school. We still have a hospital, a library, a town hall. But the town is the people, and we still have our people.
SHAPIRO: You talk about rebuilding as though it's a sure thing. Is there a conversation that has to happen about whether rebuilding makes sense?
JONES: We intend to rebuild. Every single person on the council lost their home, and we all intend to rebuild. There's a grassroots community effort that's been started. It's called #ParadiseStrong, and people are posting their visions of what the town could be. Yes, we're going to rebuild.
SHAPIRO: We've seen images of burned-out shells of cars on the road leading out of Paradise. I know this fire came through so fast, it took everyone by surprise. Do you think there's anything that the city could have done to better prepare for something like this?
JONES: I think that possibly we could have done more education of people. If you have a landline, you automatically receive those calls that say evacuate immediately. If you have a cellphone, you had to register them. Maybe we could have done better there 'cause I've heard from a lot of people who did not get those messages on their cellphones. And it's probably because they didn't register.
But we've been through this before. We had a very robust evacuation plan. We used that plan, and I think it saved hundreds of lives because we had practiced it. We even took one of our peak morning hours and made the road a contraflow and - so we could show our citizens how it was going to work. What happened, though, is typically you are evacuating a zone or two or three zones. You're not evacuating an entire town all at the same time.
SHAPIRO: I know you lost your own home. Is it hard to be the face and voice of this town and do your job more intensely than I imagine you've ever done it in your life at a moment when you also have this personal loss that you're dealing with?
JONES: Well, yes. Yes, it's hard. (Laughter) It's hard just because there's not enough hours in the day, and it's hard emotionally. But my town needs me right now.
SHAPIRO: Well, Jody Jones, mayor of Paradise, Calif., thank you for talking with us. Good luck rebuilding, and I'm sorry for your loss.
JONES: Thank you very much. You have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.