The Camp Fire destroyed a large part of the town of Paradise. Now, nearly a year later, there is literally something sweet that is emerging.
When you pull into the driveway of Noble Orchards, there's a burnt out stone and concrete building that Grandpa Noble built 98 years ago, and the rusted remains of gutted steel farm equipment.
Beyond that, there is ... green. Rows and rows of apple trees with pink and red-striped yellow Gala apples. But without the equipment or the manpower to pick them, Laurie Noble and her husband, Jim, say they had to put out the call to the community.
"After the fire, finding any kind of employee is almost impossible. So the answer was get everybody to come pick their own apples. They can make a donation if they'd like,” she said. “They can take 100 pounds. They can take 300 pounds. We don't care. We need the apples off the trees for the health of the trees.”Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio
Noble says the trees were untouched after the fire — and unpruned — which is why there are so many small apples an inch-and-a-half in diameter — about half the size of the typical Gala you’d find at the store or farmer’s market.
The orchard used to hire people for harvest, but they moved after the fire. Many of her neighbors also haven’t returned after an evacuation she calls "hideous."
"If we had not had green trees in the orchard we might have come to a different decision. But the trees want to produce. This is the last apple orchard in Paradise," she said.Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio
Noble says there used to be 50-60 orchards in the Paradise area that took advantage of the rich soil the Sierra foothills have to offer. But the orchards have slowly disappeared over the years.
Noble says the generosity of the community since she made the request has been "incredible." The fire destroyed 18,800 structures, 11 of which were part of their operation. The family has every intention of celebrating the farm’s 100th year in 2021.
“I know we don't look like we're all dressed up and ready for a party," she laughed, pointing to the dirty pair of jeans she was wearing. ”There's a lot of work to do. This fire has been demanding on everybody. Moving forward is a very slow process.”Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio
She says they will rebuild, but need help. The Camp Fire took a lot, but the Nobles are determined that it will not take everything
"This is not going to be what swallows the business," Noble said.
More varieties will be ripe soon, including Romes, Goldens, Fujis, Granny Smiths and Black Twigs. Harvest time will last until the end of October.