In white cap and gown a graduating senior walks to the graduation ceremonies at Paradise High School in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. Most of the students of Paradise High lost their homes when the Camp Fire swept through the area and the school was forced to hold classes in Chico. The seniors gathered one more time at Paradise High for graduation ceremonies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — Paradise these days is surrounded by piles of crumpled garage doors and melted ovens. The roads teem with dump trucks, and most street corners are clogged with signs advertising debris removal services or pleas to identify unclaimed pets.

But Thursday night — six months after a wildfire destroyed most of the California town and killed 85 people — the lights came on again at Paradise High School's football stadium. A class of 220 seniors looking to build a new future received their diplomas amid the rubble of their past lives.

Of the 980 students at the school, about 900 lost their homes, Principal Loren Lighthall said.

"We're able to end where we began," said 18-year-old Lilly Rickards, who lost her house in the fire and has been sharing a bed with her 26-year-old sister in a small apartment about 15 miles (24 kilometers) away in Chico.

Paradise High School sits across the road from a cemetery, next to a church. The church and nearly every other building around it are gone. The school's parking lot, where seniors have decorated parking spaces with bright colors, sits empty behind a chain-link fence. But the buildings, and the football field where graduations have been held since at least the 1960s, are still intact.

For students from a multigenerational town with deep roots, the school became an anchor after the fire .

"The fire could burn just about every physical object under the sun, but it couldn't touch the connections we have built over that lifetime," senior class president Garrett Malcolm told the crowd. "We will always carry the name and spirit of Paradise with us. Not because of its death, but because of its life and what it stood for."

At Thursday night's ceremony, the field was covered with students in green and white gowns — green for the boys and white for the girls. Students entered the field in pairs, meeting at the stage for photos.

Some added mini performances, including confetti cannons, kissing couples and two boys who carried pizza boxes and shared slices, arms entangled to feed each other.

For many, the ceremony is not just a goodbye to high school, but to their town. Most of its 26,000 residents have left, settling throughout the region. Steve "Woody" Culleton, a former mayor, estimates between 800 and 2,000 people now live in Paradise.

Ben Dees and his twin sister, Katie, are moving to St. George, Utah, this summer. They could have already been there. But their mother, Julie Fairbanks, agreed to stay in the area through July so they could graduate and spend time with their friends.

"I'm just waiting it out, sleeping on a twin-sized mattress on the floor — but at least it's a bed — so that they can stay with their friends and be here as long as they can," Fairbanks said.

"I'm just so proud," she said. "They are my only kids. ... Everything is the 'first' and the 'last' for them. And then going through all this, I'm just so proud that they got through it."

The November fire destroyed more than 13,000 homes and killed 85 people. Since then, the high school has held classes at an office building near the Chico airport that was once used by Facebook.

The school has the second-highest math scores in the county. There are seven valedictorians, defined as students who took at least eight college-level classes and earned A's in all of them. And school officials say they have the only National Merit Scholar in Northern California this year.

"We didn't just crawl across the finish line bloody and broken. We exploded through it and exceeded all expectations," senior Nathan Dailey said.

Seniors celebrate at the end of their graduation ceremonies at Paradise High School in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. Most of the students of Paradise High lost their homes when the Camp Fire swept through the area and the school was forced to hold classes in Chico. The seniors gathered one more time at Paradise High for graduation ceremonies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Ryan Chandler wear a simple message on his graduation cap to the graduation ceremonies at Paradise High School in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. Most of the students of Paradise High lost their homes when the Camp Fire swept through the area and the school was forced to hold classes in Chico. The seniors gathered one more time at Paradise High for graduation ceremonies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Quentin Smith wears his cowboy hat with tassel at the graduation ceremonies at Paradise High School in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. Most of the students of Paradise High lost their homes when the Camp Fire swept through the area and the school was forced to hold classes in Chico. The seniors gathered one more time at Paradise High for graduation ceremonies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
A senior celebrates after receiving his diploma during graduation ceremonies at Paradise High School in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. Most of the students of Paradise High lost their homes when the Camp Fire swept through the area and the school was forced to hold classes in Chico. The seniors gathered one more time at Paradise High for graduation ceremonies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Garry Reynolds wears a reminder of the Camp Fire as he attends graduation ceremonies where his granddaughter received her diploma at Paradise High School in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. Most of the students of Paradise High lost their homes when the Camp Fire swept through the area and the school was forced to hold classes in Chico. The seniors gathered one more time at Paradise High for graduation ceremonies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Sean Newsom hugs his mother, Melissa after graduation ceremonies at Paradise High School in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. After the Camp Fire destroyed the family home in Paradise, Calif. his parents relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area and Newsom moved to an apartment with his older brother in Chico to finish his senior year. Newsom and the rest of of the Paradise High School Class of 2019 gathered one more time for graduation (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Ben Dees bring a pizza with him for the graduation ceremonies at Paradise High School in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. Most of the students of Paradise High lost their homes when the Camp Fire swept through the area and the school was forced to hold classes in Chico. The seniors gathered one more time at Paradise High for graduation ceremonies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Graduating seniors gather with family and friends after the graduation ceremonies at Paradise High School in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. Most of the students of Paradise High lost their homes when the Camp Fire swept through the area and the school was forced to hold classes in Chico. The seniors gathered one more time at Paradise High for graduation ceremonies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
The program for the graduation ceremonies of Paradise High School is seen in Paradise, Calif., Thursday June 6, 2019. Most of the students of Paradise High lost their homes when the Camp Fire swept through the area and the school was forced to hold classes in Chico. The seniors gathered one more time at Paradise High for graduation ceremonies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)