4 Months After The Camp Fire, What It’s Like For One Family Living In Paradise – Peggy Beltran

Mar 14, 2019

Camp Fire survivor Peggy Beltran puts on a smile for the camera.
Credit Ashley Bailey

It Would Have Been Easier If Our House Just Burned Down - Peggy Beltran.

Peggy Beltran grew up in Paradise and her house is among the scattered homes that were spared by the Camp Fire.

She and her husband, Eddie, her parents and aunt were able to move back to the house a couple weeks after the fire.

Peggy is a respiratory therapist and a clinical instructor at Butte College.


She used to work at Feather River Hospital, as did her husband. But the hospital is closed now and she says they both had to move on and find new jobs.

  “I didn't expect to leave Feather River any time soon, she said. “For awhile, it was really hard to get out of bed.”

Peggy is now working at Rideout Memorial Hospital in Marysville, helping with ventilator management and other breathing treatments.

Earlier this week, reporter Ashley Bailey went to Peggy’s home in Paradise to speak with her about how she’s coping now, four months after the fire.


On starting a new job and not returning to her old job:

“I'd worked at Rideout in Marysville. It's an Adventist hospital now. But I had worked there for 12 years.

They were good enough to take me back and I really appreciate that. And there are some awesome people there too, you know. So that's that's good.

I know it's hard for a lot of us because we just really miss our work family. So now you have to establish those connections again. And it was ripped from you.

The next day it's just gone. Our town is gone. I never thought that day would be the last day we worked (at Feather River).

The people I took care of as a respiratory therapist they're gone. They left. Old people with COPD are not here anymore.

It’s going to cost a lot to rebuild. So some people can't afford to come back. It'll be a different town.”


On how she is coping:

“Some days it just hits me, like, I'll be fine for awhile and then it just hits me and I'm just so sad. And I just get weepy -- did that at work.

Last week, I ran into some co-workers (from Feather River) and it just was a repeat. You try to get through it.”


On leaning on her friends:

“At first, when I just was homeless with no job right after the fire, I have a couple of friends that were so supportive. Two of my co-workers that live in Chico, respiratory therapists, were really supportive and I owe a lot to them for being there for me - Penny and Joanne.

Chico's been great too. All of a sudden, they had all these people from Paradise going up the roads and (taking up) any spare housing -- they've been really amazing.

I'm so grateful for them, so supportive and just the love they have is much appreciated.”


On what it’s like to drive around Paradise now:

“There’s nothing in Paradise. I mean, there is stuff now. I'm used to driving up Neal to Wayland. There's some destruction there. I see it a lot when I go into town.

It just breaks my heart because I'm not looking at that every day. And you look out (at) my canyon, (there are) burned spots, but there was rain and now there's so much green. It's so pretty right now. So it's easy to kind of put (the destruction) in the back of your mind. But then there’ll be a reminder.”


On the living conditions at her home:

“(The utilities are on but) we still don’t have the internet. I'm hoping we can get some internet, but we still have our house -- which I am grateful for.

For a while though, my husband would say it would’ve been easier if our house just burned down. And it would have been -- you know the insurance wasn't...I mean, they eventually came through.

And we're here with my elderly parents, and my dad needs oxygen at night and (at first we didn’t) have any power. So we had to just live like we were camping.

It's better now.”


On talking with other people from Paradise:

“I know sometimes I don't know what to say to people who lost their homes and I still have mine.

I feel so bad for them. I feel like it isn't like this happened to you and this happened to me. I feel like we're all in it together.

And the feeling I get whenever I talk to anyone from Paradise that went through (the fire), I don't really (feel) judgment or envy or anything like that.

I think we all just feel like we were part of something special and it's gone.”


On her family’s plans for the future:

“Eventually, we probably will sell and leave. But for right now, I want to help rebuild.

I mean, we have our lavender farm. We just started a lavender farm this last year and a lot of our plants made it.

I've been perfecting lotions; got my bath bomb press in the mail. So we're still going to do that. I wouldn't mind having a shop in Paradise or maybe just do farmer’s markets. We'll see.”


On what gets her through tough days:

“It’s hard to talk about. Like, we almost died. Feels like it was a bad dream or something. It’s like did that really happen? And it did. I’ll go into town, I’m like -- yeah, it really happened. Like, so much is gone.

What gets me the most (is) when I think about my friends that almost died that day and the things they went through. I know I went through stuff, too.

But there are a few people that I just love so much that almost died and had to go through some harrowing experiences to save their lives.

I'm so glad they're not dead. And just when I think about that they almost did, that just wrenches my heart.

The one thing that I might have concerns with (going forward) is -- and I haven't heard this -- just expecting people to get over it right now. Like, it's OK -- it's been four months. I need to get over it. (But) It's going to take awhile to get over something like that.”


On her long-term mental health:

“One thing I've noticed about myself since the fire (is) sometimes I just don't want to be in a crowded room or just around crowds. I mean, it was just people trying to get out, just cars...So I guess it's affecting me in ways I don't know.

Sometimes I'm shorter-tempered than I would have been before the fire.

Other times I have more patience because you know I'm like, OK, this isn't that bad. I've been through some bad things and this isn't that bad.

Honestly, you know what the best thing for me is? I look at my husband.

I look at him and he's still alive and we are still alive and we escaped the fire from the hospital together.”