“Why are people rebuilding in Paradise, when they know it is a fire-prone, wildland-urban interface area?”
Kevin O’Connor has heard a variation of that question over the last month as PBS stations started airing new episodes of This Old House featuring the fire-ravaged California town. His answer? “Because it’s home. That’s what I’ve learned visiting a lot of these people and places after these disasters.”
As the show’s host, O’Connor has led excursions to document recovery efforts and help with rebuilding after major disasters in locales such as New Orleans, New Jersey, Texas and California. Everywhere, he has come to realize, it’s the same: “There’s no stopping people from going back to the places where they grew up, where they were born, where they have family, community, church. So let’s help them go back as safely and as soundly as they can.”
Currently, the focus is on three young families who are among the first to return to Paradise. The small town in the Sacramento Valley has struggled with an extreme housing crisis ever since a devastating wildfire in November 2018 left most of its residential homes destroyed. “It’s still early [in the rebuilding process],” O’Connor says. “I don’t have a sense as to how many people will come back. I do know that people will come back, I just don’t know how many.”
Those who do will come back stronger. “When you’re starting from scratch, you can build a house that is extremely resilient [to most disasters],” he says. “And you can build a house that will substantially increase the chance of surviving a wildfire.”
O’Connor will elaborate on the progress in Paradise plus provide other insights and behind-the-scenes looks into This Old House‘s 41st season as a speaker at the Home + Remodeling Show. After the presentation, he will take questions from the audience — including, invariably, from “the folks who try to come and stump [me]. They bring you the crazy: pictures of the thing that makes no sense, or the sound that they can’t seem to figure out. It becomes a challenge for me to try to figure out. It’s kind of like trying to diagnose what caused a death without having access to the body.”
Kevin O’Connor will speak on Friday, Jan. 17, at 2 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 18, at noon and 2 p.m., from the Main Stage at the Dulles Expo Center in Virginia, as part of The Home + Remodeling Show. The show is Friday, Jan. 17, through Sunday, Jan. 19. Tickets are $9 to $12 per day. Call 703-378-0910 or visit www.homeandremodelingshow.com.
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