Cell phone location data helps uncover where the residents of Paradise, Calif., went as the historic fire bore down on their homes.
As the Camp Fire burned though 153,000 acres during November, it became California’s deadliest and most destructive fire, killing 86 people and destroying nearly 14,000 residences.
But what about the thousands that fled the town of Paradise on Nov. 7 as the fire expanded exponentially and consumed their town and their homes in just a day?
USA TODAY teamed with Thasos, a data analytics company, to trace where the more than 26,000 residents of Paradise, Calif., escaped to as the historic fire bore down on their homes.
Thasos analysts were able to track the residents’ movements during the past weeks, using their cell phones’ location data. Most quickly sought shelter in the neighboring Chico — a city of nearly 100,000 people.
Some of the phones that were operating as of Dec. 7 are no longer in service. It’s unclear which may have been destroyed by the fire, injury or just a common phone disruption.
What is clear is that since that first week, most of residents have stayed where they first evacuated — largely within an 50-mile radius, tracking data from Dec. 10 show.
Tina Torres’ and her family, formerly of Paradise, have been scattered around the state.
Some of her children and extended family searched as far as Lake Tahoe and Bakersfield to find housing. Torres lived five weeks in a travel trailer in an orchard outside Chico until she recently got a three-bedroom, two-bath house to rent there.
That’s where the Christmas she had been looking forward to will happen. Torres said Christmas is very important to her.
“My birthday is Dec. 14, so I’m a Christmas junkiejunky,” said siad Torres. “I really, really just need to have a place for Christmas for my kids to come home, because they all come home at Christmas. So that’s hopefully gonna happen.”
In recent weeks, Paradise residents have begun returning home to survey the damage.
Most of the commercial district was destroyed and probably will take months to rebuild, Colette Curtis, an administrative analyst for the Town of Paradise local government agency. Even the city government headquarters had to relocate to Chico.
Satellite imagery and analytics firm DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company, collected images before and after the fire the town.
Homeowners also face several months of waiting before they can begin to rebuild. Lots have to be cleared of debris and property owners will need to get permits to rebuild, Curtis said.