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FPUD crews depart to help with Paradise fire’s disaster recovery

Crews from FPUD left Sunday, Sept.22  to help rebuild water services in Paradise, Calif. after the devastating Camp Fire roared through last November, essentially leveling the town.

The Camp Fire burned 153,336 acres, destroyed 18,804 structures and resulted in 85 deaths plus several firefighter injuries. CAL FIRE reported it as the deadliest, most destructive fire in California’s history.

Paradise Irrigation District is still struggling to repair the damaged infrastructure that resulted in more than 10,500 customers being issued a “do not drink” water advisory.

Colter Shannon and Austin Wendt left the FPUD yard Sept. 22 to make the 565-mile, 10-hour drive to Paradise. One week later on Sept. 29, two more FPUD crew members, Toby Stoneburner and Matt Perez, will depart for the town. Each two-member team will spend two days driving and five days working on repairs for a total of seven days.

Their time away won’t cost FPUD a penny as their labor is reimbursed by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Act.

“We’re doing this because we recognize that we are in a fire-prone area here in Fallbrook,” said general manager Jack Bebee.

Fallbrook’s Rice Fire in 2007 burned 206 homes, 9,000 acres and two commercial properties. Bebee said he knows Fallbrook may one day need the help.

Crews want to help repair the town

“I just want to help,” said Wendt. “That town went through devastation and I can actually do something to physically help. My wife and I always send backpacks to places devastated by hurricanes. For the most recent one, we sent 25 backpacks stuffed with school supplies.”

Bebee said the crews can bring back with them some of the lessons they learn from the destruction and repair work. He said the district is also working with North County Fire on emergency preparedness and the FPUD board room has been set up as an emergency command center in the event it is needed.