The town of Paradise destroyed by PG&E fire loses 92 percent of its population 

Burned homes in Paradise, CA
Photo Credit: Noah Berger/Associated Press

Governor reclassifies Paradise a “rural area” after Camp Fire 

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California will now classify the town of Paradise, which was mainly destroyed by the PG&E-sparked Camp Fire in 2018, as a rural area after the city’s population fell to less than 10% of its pre-fire population. 

The move is part of a bid to restore Paradise. According to the announcement that Paradise and “neighboring unincorporated butte county” are being certified as rural regions, “those communities are eligible for loans, grants, and technical aid under U.S. funded rural development programs. 

“While Paradise’s pre-fire population was estimated at 26,800, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, this year’s door-to-door study revealed that only 2,034 residents remain,” Newsom says. 

The cited drop from 26,800 to 2,034 represents a decline of more than 92.4 percent. Note that Newsom muddled the numbers a little bit; in 2010, the U.S. Census estimated that Paradise had 26,218 people, a population which grew every year since 2011 until hitting 26,800 in 2018, a few months before the fire. 

A more accurate census-driven estimate will not come until 2020 at the earliest. 

The 2018 blaze, started by PG&E equipment, killed 85 people and burned down nearly 18,800 structures, most of them homes in Paradise, according to Cal Fire records. 

The 2019 USDA guidelines define a rural area as a community with “a population that doesn’t exceed 10,000, or a population that doesn’t exceed 20,000, is not located in a metropolitan statistical area (MSA), and has a serious lack of mortgage credit for low- to moderate-income families.” 

It is also anticipated that Newsom will sign AB 1054, a bill intended to assist the bankrupt PG&E to pay for Camp Fire damages and similar recent disasters. 

The complicated bit of legislation provides $21 billion for payments, half of it coming from PG&E customers via a monthly surcharge that was originally supposed to expire in 2021 but now will live on for 14 more years. The remainder of the money comes from company shareholders. 

The bill passed the Assembly 63-10, after clearing the State Senate 31-7. Bay Area reps like assembly members David Chiu, Phil Ting, Ash Kalra, Marc Levine, and Senator Scott Wiener all voted against the measure. 

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