The high school principal in Paradise ― the rural California town devastated by November’s Camp fire ― resigned this week, saying he couldn’t find a place to live.
“It is with great sorrow that I am resigning as Principal of Paradise High School. I loved working with your children and they are the reason I loved this job so much,” principal Loren Lighthall said in a Facebook post on Monday. “Unfortunately, I have been unable to secure housing.”
Lighthall and his wife have seven kids and need to “provide a stable environment for them,” he added.
After losing their home in Paradise in the Camp fire ― the deadliest and most destructive in state history ― Lighthall’s family has been living in a three-bedroom apartment in the nearby college town of Chico, where many survivors relocated, but where housing is far more expensive.
Lighthall faces a similar predicament as many who survived the Camp fire, which killed 85 people and burned nearly 14,000 homes to the ground: where to live now?
Plagued by Northern California’s affordable housing crisis, Butte County’s vacancy rate for rentals was low before the fire, about 1 to 2 percent. After the fire, the available housing stock shrunk even further, making it feel nearly impossible for those who lost homes to find an affordable place nearby.
In February, months after the blaze, some survivors were living in homeless shelters. Others were doubled up with friends, or living in trailers on others property. Many left the area or the state altogether.
“We’ve just been unable to secure housing,” Lighthall told the local Fox affiliate, noting that resigning was a “very hard decision” to make. “We can’t live in temporary housing year after year.”
Lighthall, who came to Paradise in 2017, will start a new post as principal of a high school in central California this summer, he said in his Facebook post.
Several Paradise school district buildings burned down and others were damaged in the fire. The high school is still standing, but devastation in the town, still largely in ashes months after the fire, has made it impossible for most people to return. Students have had to share campuses with other schools and conduct classes in an old hardware store building and a former office space by the airport.
Out of about 3,400 students in the Paradise school district before the fire, only about half remained ― about 1,700 students ― in January, per the school’s superintendent.
“The trauma’s been tough, because I’ve never really experienced it in my life,” Lighthall told Fox. “At some point you’re just being reminded of it too much and everything becomes about the trauma. And I think putting some distance away from that is going to help.”
As fires have worsened across California in recent years, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency last month, in an effort to get ahead of the upcoming fire season and start preparing and hopefully preventing another year of fire devastation.