REDDING, California — Three weeks ago, a blazing wildfire cut a twisting path through a subdivision here, destroying some homes completely and leaving others untouched.
The Strickland family left their home just before a tornado of fire ripped through their neighborhood. But they're one of the lucky few whose house is still standing.
After traveling through 215,000 acres, the Carr Fire has claimed eight lives and destroyed more than 1,000 houses. The sheer acreage it covered made it one of the largest wildfires in the state’s history.
Now, the cleanup effort has begun.
Contractor crews hired by the state are moving through the rubble, looking for items that might leave behind dangerous chemical residue. Some of those toxic remains include the old houses that might contain asbestos, the melted fire detectors that could produce low levels of radioactivity, and any partially burned propane tanks at risk of combusting.
The cleanup crew’s ultimate goal is to leave the lot of charred home as close to habitable as possible, regardless of if residents choose to rebuild or sell. And as homeowners return to survey the damage, many are confronted with vivid memories of the fire.
"You're just constantly reminded of all of these families that don't have homes anymore," said Taylor Strickland, 23, whose home was miraculously left intact.
“It doesn’t burn a certain thing,” Strickland said of the fire. “It takes what it wants, when it wants, how it wants.”
This segment originally aired August 16, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.