All the evacuation orders for the Camp Fire finally lifted in Paradise over the weekend, and many people drove back in to assess their burned homes. But the fire did spare the occasional house, which is hard for the owners in a different way.
Steve and Kari Eurotas, ages 64 and 60, have the lone house standing in their immediate neighborhood on the south end of Paradise. Their nearly 3,000-square-foot home — with a vaulted ceiling, wood-burning stove and deck — sits on a 3-acre lot overlooking a valley of trees.
“We just do not understand how our house is still here,” says Steve, shaking his head, eyes watering.
Walking inside their home, which has been empty for over a month, everything looks perfect, except for the strong smell. It smells burned, rotted, and has a hint of chemicals.
"There's no water, no power, no gas,” says Kari.
The home is a time capsule to Nov. 8, when the Camp Fire forced them to evacuate.
“Everything is the way it was when we left. There's a dried-up bowl of oatmeal,” says Kari. “It's cream of wheat with raspberries,” Steve says, remembering his last breakfast there. Their bed is unmade, covers turned back, like someone had just woken up.
It's bizarre, but the smell is about the only thing wrong with the home. While almost everything around them lies in ruins. Kari says she has mixed feelings about it.
"I'm not super-excited that it's standing. But, I just think; I’m going to start crying,” Kari says, her voice breaking. “It limits our choices. Most of our friends are leaving and not rebuilding.” Her mother lost her house, as did many people they knew.
Because their house is still there, they won't get to claim a total loss on their insurance, likely just smoke damage. And because of that, they can’t decide to rebuild or move somewhere else.
They feel bad saying this, because of all the people they know who lost everything. But when you look around their charred neighborhood, it’s hard to imagine living there.
If they could leave, would they?
“Now? Probably. It's really hard, because all of my family's lost their homes, our friends, too. So it's kind of like, our Paradise? It's gone,” says Kari.
The couple can't move back yet, because of the smoke damage and lack of utilities. So, they're living in a single-wide mobile home with friends in Chico for the foreseeable future.
There was one thing Steve had to get from the house before they headed back to Chico. He points to a suitcase. "It's very dear to me this time of year. It's my red-and-white suit.”
“It's his Santa suit," says Kari, laughing. "He's been Santa every year.”
Normally, Steve would be all booked up for “celebrity appearances,” but he says, “you know, there's no parties in Paradise this year, no Christmas parties.”
He’s a Santa without a gig.
Steve and Kari had planned to sell the house in a couple of years, so they could retire in Chico. But with the uncertainty in the real estate market and the future of Paradise, that's all on hold now. At some point, they will probably have to come back to live in a town they hardly recognize.