Shutdown Threatens To Stall Recovery In Wildfire-Ravaged Paradise, Calif. A federal grant for basic infrastructure projects is stalled. There is concern that, if fire survivors don't see evidence that recovery has begun, they could give up hope and leave the region.
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Shutdown Threatens To Stall Recovery In Wildfire-Ravaged Paradise, Calif.

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Shutdown Threatens To Stall Recovery In Wildfire-Ravaged Paradise, Calif.

Shutdown Threatens To Stall Recovery In Wildfire-Ravaged Paradise, Calif.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The partial government shutdown is triggering some anxiety around Paradise, Calif. David you know this town. You walked the streets of Paradise.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. I mean, this town - Steve, I was there two months ago, and the images stay with me. I mean, just totally devastated by the Camp Fire - I mean devastated, flattened. You looked at just rubble that was the remnants of people's belongings and a lot of residents just wondering what was going to come next.

INSKEEP: Well, that was then, and NPR's Kirk Siegler reports on what's happening now.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: This cleanup and recovery is huge and largely reliant on federal aid. Marc Nemanic has been waiting for more than three weeks now to apply for up to $750,000 in disaster grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is closed. The grant would help Paradise even just begin planning for its daunting recovery.

MARC NEMANIC: Roads, sewer, water - those types of things, those essential girders that you're trying to build.

SIEGLER: Nemanic is with a local nonprofit called 3CORE, which partners with the Commerce Department to do rural economic development. He says Paradise can't afford any delay or uncertainty. And so many people here are living in limbo, and they need to see signs of something happening, some kind of progress.

NEMANIC: You'll start having a brain drain and money leaving the community and making us actually in a worse position than we were before the fire.

SIEGLER: So far, FEMA and Small Business Administration loans are not affected by the shutdown. But a delay in these more under-the-radar infrastructure projects could have serious consequences. Ironically, another example is the wildfire prevention work that's now stalled on federal public land across Butte County.

STEPHEN GRAYDON: We're creating a negative feedback loop where we're going to consistently get further and further behind.

SIEGLER: Stephen Graydon and his contractors are nearly done with a 300-acre prescribed fire and fuels brake project on federal land on the ridge just adjacent to Paradise, where homes were spared last November. It's being held up because no one from the Bureau of Land Management is on site to approve the last bit of work.

GRAYDON: Our partners can't come to work, and I can't go out there and get rid of some these fuels that have been cut and piled. And we're trying to get it prepped to where this is a good strategic area and a defensible space.

SIEGLER: The rainy California winter is a key window for prescribed fire here in the foothills of the Sierra. Contracts like Graydon's are stalled, but so are talks about any future projects on federal land that were funded and ready to get done before the next fire season.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Chico, Calif.

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