When the Camp Fire swept across California’s Sierra Nevada foothills last November, flames nearly leveled the town of Paradise. More than nine out of 10 buildings were destroyed, and 86 people were killed.
The tragic burning of Paradise also represents a new chapter in America’s relationship with fire damage. No contemporary town has encountered a water system so extensively contaminated by chemicals released during a fire. Utility leaders and outside experts say that ridding the pipes of benzene and other volatile chemicals may take years. The health of the water system has emerged as the central tension in the town’s recovery.