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Carr Fire Survivor Tries To Rebuild


It took five weeks, but finally, the ferocious wildfire in Northern California known as the Carr fire is fully contained. It was among the worst in state history, killing eight people and destroying more than a thousand homes. One of those homes belonged to Kathleen Delikowski of Redding, Calif. She told me that as the fire drew closer, she sent her two 8-year-old children to stay with friends so she could go to work. And she said what she could to calm their fears.

KATHLEEN DELIKOWSKI: Mommy's just going to work. I'll see you soon. And I also reminded them that mommy always comes home.

BLOCK: That same night in late July, it became clear she had to flee.

DELIKOWSKI: As I'm loading my dogs into my car to leave, everybody is, you know, texting each other, calling each other. And the fire had jumped the river and was moving so fast that it just raced through the greenbelts behind my house. And within seconds of me getting ready to back out of the driveway, Cal Fire and all of the first responders were just descending on our neighborhood because it moved so fast. There was no way to notify people to evacuate. The fire moved faster than they had the ability to notify people.

BLOCK: Yeah. Did you realize at that point that your house was going to be lost?

DELIKOWSKI: Yeah, it was pretty obvious as I drove away that I was not returning to a house. And that was the general feeling of a lot of people that were leaving the neighborhood at that time. Because the fire moved so fast, there were many people in the community that - you know, besides not having their important papers, they didn't have the basics of, like, their maintenance medications and even their eyeglasses, things of that nature. It really was incredible how fast things moved.

BLOCK: Were there things that you were able to take with you that are really special to you, that you're glad you were able to save?

DELIKOWSKI: Well, that's - difficult question to answer. I got the important things out - my children, my dogs and me.

BLOCK: Yeah.

DELIKOWSKI: The rest of it is just stuff that can be replaced.

BLOCK: When you went back and saw that your house had been totally destroyed, what was that like? What were you thinking?

DELIKOWSKI: Actually, I had probably an inappropriate reaction. I was looking at my house. And I had built a swingset for my children a couple years ago. And while the house was ashes, my swingset stands...


DELIKOWSKI: ...And is structurally sound.

BLOCK: Isn't that crazy?

DELIKOWSKI: It is. So I - the joke is that what I build stands. And people are now thinking that maybe I should build my next house myself.

BLOCK: I'm wondering how you were able to tell your kids about the loss of their home. What did you say?

DELIKOWSKI: I told them that the house had been on fire and had burned. I took a photograph that one of the first responders was kind enough to send me. I have shown them one picture one time of the house. But that is the only time that I will show them a picture of it. I have not taken them to the property. There is no reason that I can think of to subject them to that. I don't know if this is meaningful, but my children I adopted from foster care. This is at least the second time that they've gone through a complete loss in their life. I do not find it necessary to drive them past that at this time.

BLOCK: Yeah. You did have insurance that, I guess, will cover your losses. Are you planning to rebuild right there where your house was?

DELIKOWSKI: Yeah. No reason not to. All of the fuel is gone. We're good for at least five years.

BLOCK: So no thoughts about leaving, even given what you've been through.

DELIKOWSKI: No. No. I like it here. As long as they let me stay, I'm going to.

BLOCK: Kathleen Delikowski in Redding, Calif. She lost her home in last month's Carr fire. Ms. Delikowski, all the best to you and your children. We really appreciate your talking to us. Thank you.

DELIKOWSKI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.