Early in the morning on November 8, 2018, the now infamous Camp Fire started about 7 miles northeast of Paradise, California in Butte County. By the end of the day, the entire population of the small ridgeline community — some 27,000 people — had been evacuated and Paradise was completely engulfed in flames.
The fire ravaged the mountain town for another 17 days. By the time it was contained, it had burned 150,000 acres and destroyed almost 20,000 structures. Nearly 14,000 of those structures were homes.
The Camp Fire was the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century. It claimed 85 lives and left an entire community devastated. Though a random smattering of homes and businesses remain, most people who lived in Paradise lost everything — not only their homes but also their livelihood and sense of place as well. Among them Billy Pickett and Matthew Gates.
Before the fire, Billy Pickett was living a good life in a town he loved. He spent his time with his dogs (Duke and Meaty), taking his nieces on short trips, and working at a gym called Beyond Fitness. He loved his job — the feeling of family it created — and described it as his “happy place.” In the wake of the fire, he’d lost his home, his car, and his job. Since then, the struggle to get back to some kind of normalcy has been challenging.
“It’s so sad to see our beautiful little town gone,” he said. “As of now I am currently dependent on others and it’s often very difficult to find a ride, especially when I am staying up above Paradise and most of my friends live in Chico now or moved away. I really need transportation to look for a job … and slowly get my life back together again.”
Matthew Gates is a Paradise Police Department officer who worked tirelessly through the wildfires. Gates, along with his wife and 2 young sons, lost his home, belongings, and car in the fire. But despite these heavy losses, Gates continued helping others as flames ravaged his town and his own family was evacuated.
Since the fire, Matthew continues to work for the police department, but as the long clean-up process continues in Paradise, he and his family are not yet able to return to the town they called home. And having lost their vehicle in the fire, managing the logistics of a young family – school and work – has been challenging.
Recycled Rides gifting ceremony in Paradise, California
On April 12, Esurance donated two refurbished vehicles to Billy and Matt in a ceremony at the Paradise Police Station. The event drew local media, family, friends, and locals who all came out to witness these small steps in rebuilding their community.
Pickett received a 2014 Nissan Rogue that was repaired at Fabian’s Collision Center in Stockton, California. And Gates and his family received a 2016 Subaru Impreza that was repaired at Duane’s Body Shop in Sacramento, California.
“I’m so honored to be nominated for this and to receive this car,” said Officer Gates. “What a difference this will make to my life with my boys. It will help me get them to school and me to work, which has been a challenge as we’ve been displaced from Paradise to a new community.”
Helping Paradise rebuild … little by little
As a California-based company, the catastrophe struck close to home and even directly impacted a handful of our associates and their families. We reacted at a very local level – helping to support victims in the immediate aftermath of the fires.
But as an insurance company, we also understand that recovery from such an event is a long and ongoing process. While we’re working to make insurance surprisingly painless, we also look for opportunities to help out those in need by removing some of their pain. It’s so easy to forget just how important reliable transportation is, until it’s gone. And so we were thrilled to donate the vehicles and to play a small part in helping two Paradise residents begin to rebuild.
Esurance and Recycled Rides
Esurance is proud to have an ongoing partnership with Recycled Rides, a National Auto Body Council program that brings together insurers, body shops, paint suppliers, part vendors, charities, and members of local communities to provide vehicles — and the independence they bring — to those who need them most.
Special thanks to Rebecca Cody for the wonderful photos.