The mayor of Paradise watched a wildfire take his town. He’s determined to see it rebuilt

Five years ago, on Nov. 8, 2018, the deadly Camp Fire destroyed the town of Paradise in northern California.
Published: Nov. 8, 2023 at 3:36 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2023 at 7:58 PM HST
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PARADISE, Calif (HawaiiNewsNow) - Five years ago, on Nov. 8, 2018, the deadly Camp Fire destroyed the town of Paradise in northern California. For Greg Bolin, the mayor of Paradise, the path to recovery has been a difficult one — but he knows the town has a bright future.

“I can see Paradise in my head and what it is going to be like down the road,” he said.

“It’s already in my mind and that it will be absolutely beautiful.”

Recently, Bolin showed HNN some of what has already been restored in his hometown.

“Last year, we were able to pave the main highway from the town limits up to the town and this is just a start of us paving all of our roads in Paradise,” he said, proudly.

LESSONS FROM PARADISE: As part of this special series, HNN’s Jonathan Masaki traveled to Paradise, Calif. to look at how they’re still recovering from a catastrophic fire five years ago.

The Camp Fire burned Paradise to its very core. Eighty-five people died in the flames.

Out of the 11,000 homes in Paradise, only 1,200 structures escaped the flames.

Thousands of residents became homeless in an instant.

“They had no place to go, they were living in mobile homes,” Bolin said.

As mayor of Paradise, Bolin gets a monthly stipend of just $300.

He is a home builder by trade and that’s given him a unique perspective on his town’s recovery.

Since much of the town’s infrastructure was destroyed, Paradise is being rebuilt and totally modernized at the same time. “All underground utilities, we’re going to have sewer system brought in and get that going. It’s going to be new homes, businesses, a new downtown,” he said.

“It’s going to be a place where people want to be.”

Also in this series:

That’s why he is passing on his advice and words of encouragement to Maui County officials. His staff began reaching out to the Valley Isle almost immediately after the deadly blaze in August.

“We’ve actually had a lot of contact with County of Maui staff in helping them set up some of these things, telling them what we have learned to make sure that they are positioning themselves as well as they can for some of this aid that comes out,” said Colette Curtis, Paradise director of recovery.

With Maui in its early stages of recovery, Bolin encourages Lahaina residents to be patient and prepare for the long haul since rebuilding the town will take time and coordination.

“Government can be very frustrating, it’s a good thing and a bad thing,” he said.

“Government is slow which is good and bad at times.”

Speaking of patience, Bolin finally moved into his new home in August, waiting five years to do so. His priority was to get others into their new homes first.

“It is an absolute joy to see people walking into their home for the first time,” he said.

“Many of them have never had a brand new home in their life and they got to experience the joy of having a brand new home.”

Bolin shares his empathy with Mauians and reminds them to take it one day at a time.

“Get through this grieving time,” he said, “and then let’s go to work and bring Maui back.”