$1000 donations Paradise fire: Businessman gifts $1,000 to every student.

A businessman pained over the destruction to the town of Paradise caused by a deadly Butte County wildfire on Tuesday gave $1,000 each to students and staff members from the local high school.

Real estate developer and restaurant owner Bob Wilson arrived in the nearby city of Chico with checks totaling $1.1 million for Paradise High School’s students and staff members.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of students lined up at Chico High School to receive their checks.

“I’m really grateful. When I first heard it, it really caught me by surprise,” student Sam Pritchard said. “I just never really expected it to happen to me.”

Sam, like so many Paradise students, lost his home after the Camp Fire ignited on Nov. 8. The blaze killed nearly 90 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes.

It’s stories like Sam’s that compelled Wilson to donate.

“High school had a tremendous impact on me,” he said. “I’m 90 years old and I still have those memories of high school. And I said, ‘Look. If I can do something for these kids that will give them a little breathing room, take away from this conflagration that came about, that’s what I’m going to do.’”

Wilson, who doesn’t have any ties to Northern California, traveled from San Diego to Butte County on Tuesday to deliver the checks himself.

Some of the parents didn’t quite believe it until they saw it for themselves.

“Not only was it generous, but it kind of brought everybody together,” parent Breanna Tamayo said. “My daughter saw a lot of her friends. And so it was more than just the money, it was just very generous of him.”

Wilson said there are no restrictions on the money.

“If they want to buy gas for their car, want to help out their family, whatever it is, they’re old enough — they can figure it out,” he said. “The whole idea is something to do now, not next week, not next month.”

Wilson wrote checks to all 980 students and 105 employees, including teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers. In fact, the principal of Paradise High School, who also lost his home, got a check as well.

“This is the happiest I’ve been,” Principal Loren Lighthall said. “The money is great. Seeing the smiles and being happy and being around your friends is maybe even better.”

Wilson said his intention was to make the kids smile and “give a little freedom to do whatever they wanted to do and maybe take their minds off what happened for a short period.”

He said reading about the hardships faced by the Paradise High School students broke his heart and he wanted them to know that someone cares about them.

“From all I’ve met and people that I’ve talked to, I know darn well I’ve done the right thing,” Wilson said.

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