The remnants of the deadly Camp Fire in Paradise, California.
Photo: Getty

The Camp Fire destroyed the town of Paradise, California, last year. Since then, the community has struggled to rebuild. In fact, more than 90 percent of Paradise residents never returned, according to new numbers from the governor’s office. Now, the town is officially a “rural area,” which opens the door for more federal assistance to help it recover.

Governor Gavin Newson announced Paradise’s new certification Thursday, noting that only 2,034 of the town’s previous 26,800 residents remain, per surveys conducted in April. Paradise has truly become a ghost town since the state’s deadliest fire in history ripped it apart. With a population smaller than 2,500 and not associated with an urban area, however, Paradise qualifies as a rural area, which will allow it to receive loans, grants, and assistance for rural development from the Department of Agriculture.

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PG&E, the state utility, is at fault for the Camp Fire after CalFire determined that the company’s power lines helped cause the fire that ultimately killed 85 people. As a major Wall Street Journal investigation found, the utility knew for years that its lines were compromised yet failed to take action to repair them. This carelessness not only ended the lives of these individuals; it destroyed the community they left behind in Paradise.

A USA TODAY analysis earlier this year concluded that most Paradise residents fled to Chico, California, a little California college town less than fifteen miles away. Chico’s own numbers show that its population has definitely risen since then—19,000 new residents appeared after the disaster, according to the local ABC station.

Wildfires won’t stop happening, especially as global temperatures continue rising and people continue developing in fire-prone areas. And unless we want a repeat of the Paradise disaster, communities need to prepare.

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