BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
On Thursday November 8, 2018, the Camp Fire roared through Butte County and lasted 17 days. Burning through a football field in a second, residents were forced to evacuate at rapid speed, particularly in Paradise, California. Eighty-five people lost their lives within Paradise and more than 18,000 structures were destroyed in the blaze. It’s been more than two years since the smoke cleared, and the town is still recovering.
One Recce Town Airman discovered the hardships Paradise was still enduring and decided to take action into his own hands.
“People in the area started telling me about how they lost houses, family members and pets,” said Senior Airman Aaron Parent, volunteer coordinator. “That made me start to think of what I could do to help, and I made a vow to come out at least once a month.”
Parent proceeded to gather volunteer Airmen from Beale to go to Paradise and work alongside local community leaders to help the town in a variety of different ways. As his initiative grew, the group of Airmen grew from 48 to 60.
“This means hope for me,” said Joelle Chinnock, Director of Disaster Recovery and Development for Paradise Adventist Church. “It’s very hard to look at the future and see how much work has to be done. Connecting with our friends at Beale and them showing up, being present and sweating in our town really gives us hope.”
Airmen volunteering worked to clear brush, tree branches and scotch broom; an invasive species filled with highly flammable oils which can carry a fire with ease. With new homes being built in Paradise, ensuring their safety against new fires is paramount.
“There’s not a day that goes by here where I don’t think about the devastation of what happened here and reminded of all that was lost,” Chinnock said. “Having our friends from Beale come to help is infusing new energy in us.”
With Airmen ready and willing to attack surrounding land to keep the town safe, the towns’ leaders have time to focus on other issues rather than landscape maintenance.
“This is a real humility check for me,” Parent said. “You see what’s left from the town, talk to people who lost so much, and it makes me appreciate that we can help. With this, I’ve been able to see first-hand what we can do as an Air Force to make an impact on the community”.
As Airmen devote their time working within their community to help ensure the safety of their neighbors, residents can’t help but see the progress from the war-zone of the Camp Fire aftermath, to the rebuilding of their home.
“When we came back and seen the town covered in ash with no clean water and debris not picked up, it was like entering hell,” Chinnock recalled. “Now, we have blue skies, we have green trees, debris is cleaned and we have new friends. It gives us perspective to appreciate what we have now.”