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Utah Women Remembers Feeling Protected By Trees As A Child Living In Paradise, California

Trees used for protecting and isolating residents in Paradise, California fueled the fire that destroyed most of the community.
California National Guard

Efforts to identify the remains of victims in the Northern California Camp Fire continue.

As the search for remains moves forward one Utah woman who spent her childhood living and visiting her family in Paradise, California wonders now if the qualities that made the area so special contributed to the devastation there.
"I got a text from my aunt that said that the house that I grew up in was gone," said Amy Shaffer.

Shaffer lived in Paradise until she was seven years old. After her family moved she spent several weeks of summer vacation enjoying the seclusion of the community with her grandmother. She remembers the cool summer nights and reading books from off the shelf of the family library.

"And it was on this huge piece of land and it was surrounded by hundred foot trees in every direction,” She remembers. “The limbs would be low to the ground and we would build forts. And that is what made it special. You went there and everything that was going on in the world around you disappeared. Looking back now, it is obvious, that when you live in a forest you could lose your home at any time."

With reflection in her eyes Shaffer talks about her 101-year-old grandmother who lived in the two bedroom cottage style family home until just a few  years ago, before moving to Logan, Utah to be closer to Shaffer and other family members.

"I don't think she'll ever understand the magnitude that the whole entire city is gone," Shaffer said. "We debated whether to tell her or not because we didn't want to break her heart."

At first, says Shaffer, following media reports about the fire was consuming her mind, her time, and her emotional energy. Even now she runs errands and cares for her three boys with phone in hand, waiting for another update from her aunt. Text messages tell of poor air quality, tent city struggles, and reports of family headstones charred by the fire that destroyed the city cemetery.

"We have a couple of friends that are still unaccounted for," She said. "One of my father's best friends is still unaccounted for. It is heartbreaking. I would do anything to be there right now."

While she can't make the trip to the temporary housing sites, Shaffer is using her phone to follow a Cache Valley family who packed their pickup truck with supplies for survivors.  They send her photographs. And, she is using social media to help raise funds to rebuild.

“When I went there, there was no cable, there was no internet, and there was no Wi-Fi. There was the trees," She added. "Nothing from the outside could get in."

At 14-years-old, Kerry began working as a reporter for KVEL “The Hot One” in Vernal, Utah. Her radio news interests led her to Logan where she became news director for KBLQ while attending Utah State University. She graduated USU with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and spent the next few years working for Utah Public Radio. Leaving UPR in 1993 she spent the next 14 years as the full time mother of four boys before returning in 2007. Kerry and her husband Boyd reside in Nibley.