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'How do you grieve for a whole town?' Paradise residents seek healing at Camp Fire vigil

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 11/19/2018 Damon Arthur
Paradise Town Manager Lauren Gill cries during a vigil for Camp Fire victims at the First Christian Church of Chico on November 18, 2018 in Chico, California. The blaze has killed at least 76 people and destroyed more than 10,000 structures according to Cal Fire. © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc. Paradise Town Manager Lauren Gill cries during a vigil for Camp Fire victims at the First Christian Church of Chico on November 18, 2018 in Chico, California. The blaze has killed at least 76 people and destroyed more than 10,000 structures according to Cal Fire.

CHICO, California — Inside the First Christian Church of Chico, more than 100 people gathered Sunday evening to sing and to pray for healing from the wounds left by the Camp Fire.

The Town of Paradise, its community so decimated that many officials have cast doubt on its ability to ever fully recover, organized the vigil.

Visitors were given an electric candle to keep during the service. Toward the end, they took turns bringing their candles or other mementos from the fire to the altar.

"We stand with you. We are here to support you in any way we can," Jacob Kliebe, a pastor at Calvary Chapel church in Chico, told the crowd gathered in the pews. "Tonight we just want to grieve with you and to speak words of hope with you." 

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Kliebe said counselors were on hand to help residents work through their grief. 

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Kassy Parish, 19, of Paradise said she found out Saturday that her home burned down in the Camp Fire. She had been so busy helping family and friends that she had little time for grieving, but she found quiet time to reflect during the service.

"I feel like I have to go through my own grieving process with that," Parish said. "I don't know, how do you grieve a whole town?"

A lot of people are asking that.

Tens of thousands have been left homeless after the fire burned through Paradise, Magalia, Concow and other communities east of Chico.

Scores of the displaced are now living in shelters or in tents. Local and state officials have said finding housing for those displaced by the Camp Fire will be difficult and could take months.

On Sunday night officials announced the Camp Fire death toll has reached 77. The number of structures destroyed in the 150,000-acre fire has reached 14,033 as the fire still burns at 65 percent containment.

Parish's twin sister, Alli Benefield, said she's relying on her family.

"It's a comfort being surrounded by people who have loved me my entire life and have been with me through this entire trial," Benefield said.

Outside, people shared hugs, tears and stories.

On the church's side lawn Vinaya Gokarn was prepared with leaves and flower petals of yellow, white, purple and pink. Gokarn worked with visitors to make a mandala as a way for people affected by the Camp Fire to "find a healing space," she said.

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"I'm inviting people to add to the mandala so they can get the same feeling of healing that I am," Gokarn said.

The Walnut Creek woman said she asked the church pastor, Jesse Kearns, for permission before making the mandala.

Kearns said he was happy to see the buddhist art form helping visitors.

"This is so organic," Kearns said.

Gokarn said she goes for a walk each day, collecting items from nature and using them to make a mandala. She said she wanted to share the creation Sunday with residents of Paradise and others affected by the Camp Fire.

"I wanted to come here and create a sacred space for healing," Gokarn said.

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: 'How do you grieve for a whole town?' Paradise residents seek healing at Camp Fire vigil

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