The discovery was as surprising as it was ominous. Weeks after the Camp Fire roared through Butte County late in 2018, killing 85 people in the town of Paradise alone – the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history – officials made an alarming find: The Paradise drinking water is now laced with benzene, a volatile compound linked to cancer. Water officials say they believe the extreme heat of the firestorm created a ‘toxic cocktail’ of gases in burning homes that got sucked into the water pipes when the system depressurized from use by residents and firefighters. The contamination in Paradise, however, is more widespread than anyone could have predicted.’It is jaw dropping,’ said Dan Newton of the state Water Resources Control Board.’This is such a huge scale. None of us were prepared for this.’ The water contamination represents yet another unexpected and costly headache for California, a drought-prone state where water is a precious commodity. The expected cleanup and insurance costs of the Paradise fire exceed $2 billion. Experts say the water district may be able to clean the pipes to some of the homes later this year, but it will take two years and $300 million before hillside residents can safely drink the water from their taps.