When Fire Takes Everything: Rebuilding in Northern California

Episode of: Death, Sex & Money

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Oct 17, 201825m
When Fire Takes Everything: Rebuilding in Northern California
Oct 17 '1825m
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In the middle of the night on October 8th, 2017, Ed and Kathy Hamilton were woken up by banging on their front door. When they opened it, their neighbor was standing there, and behind her, the sky was glowing red. "It was just a scene from hell," Ed says. "It’s indescribable." A few hours later, their home burned down in the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. Ed and Kathy became one of thousands of families deciding how—or if—to rebuild in a part of the country where wildfires are becoming mroe intense and destructive with each passing year.

This week, in partnership with KQED in San Francisco, we're looking at what happens after the smoke has cleared. For Ed and Kathy, recovery means reconstructing their home to nearly the exact specifications of the house that stood there before. But that's possible for them because they had good insurance, and a big financial safety net. For many others, who were underinsured or had no insurance, that's not an option. Bart Levenson found herself stuck in limbo for years after a 2015 wildfire destroyed her home, despite her best efforts to be prepared. Earlier this year, Bart spoke to KQED reporter Sukey Lewis at the abandoned resort that was her temporary home for years after the fire. "It's just so big what happened," she said. "I didn't know this was going to be the most stuck I'd ever be in my whole life."


If you want to hear more stories about how communities and individuals in California are navigating the aftermath of wildfires, check out KQED's podcast The BayIn particular, we recommend their recent episode featuring Sukey Lewis's interview with a young woman named Kayla Swaim, and another recent episode about the arguments for and against rebuilding in areas that continue to be vulnerable to wildfire.

If you're curious to learn more about how better design can keep homes from burning, even in severe wildfires, check out Death, Sex & Money producer Stephanie Joyce's recent reporting for 99% Invisible. She explores the science behind how we could reduce our collective fire risk, and the reasons why we don't.

And to read Kathy Hamilton's blog, where she's chronicled their rebuilding process (and their spending!), head on over here.

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