Usually, this a blog dedicated to tracking the production of Three Days in Paradise, a documentary series about our Butte County communities before, during and after the Camp Fire.
But today, this is a call to help a group of #CampFire survivors to which fate (and the Federal Government) has dealt an especially cruel hand.
Let’s call them Camp Fire Survivors 2.0. They are the first people who moved back to the burn area in RVs and trailers to begin the recovery and plan for rebuilding… and are now being ordered to evacuate again. The health of the recovery… of the entire town and all our fates… depends on them. So they need our help.
Here are a few stories about the situation:
I’ll explain what I know.
One of the contracts for my business, RocketSpots.tv, is to record and broadcast the Butte Board of Supervisors meeting. So I’ve been to these meetings, listened to the presentations, and talked to almost all the players involved.
In December, they passed urgency ordinances which allowed people with RVs and trailers to return and live on their own parcels in the county’s jurisdiction located in the Paradise, Magalia and Concow areas. This was to help them get back to living near home faster, get a jump on the community rebuilding and to free up living spaces in Chico, Oroville and other areas for people without access to RVs and trailers. These rules were passed in good faith after county staff and supervisors discussed the rules with the Federal Emergency Management Administration and Cal Office of Emergency Services and there were given verbal assurances the rules would be OK as long as the RVs and trailers were more than 100 feet from burned structures.
The Town of Paradise passed similar rules while also consulting with the county, FEMA and Cal OES. They did their due diligence to make sure these rules helped our community while at the same time making it possible for FEMA funds to help with the clean up. After all, the declaration of disaster allowed billions of dollars to be available to help clean up the unprecedented destruction of the fire.
As we all know, the cost to clean up over 15,000 destroyed structures far outstrips what the towns of Concow, Magalia, Pulga, Paradise, the county and all the other affected areas can afford. If we have to pay for this ourselves, these areas will remain in ruins for decades or more.
And so, with the rules in place, citizens returned. Thesy did what the county and the town asked. They applied for permits to return. In many cases, they paid thousands of dollars beyond their insurance payouts to make sure they were following the rules laid out. They did it the right way.
These were the first citizens of Magalia, Concow and Paradise to begin the rebuilding.
What FEMA gives FEMA takes
Well, apparently last week new leadership at FEMA overseeing the recovery informed county and town officials these rules would make it impossible to use FEMA funds to do this clean up. In fact if FEMA did fund this clean up, to the tune of $1.7 billion, there was a very real possibility the General Services Administration (which oversees the Federal budget) would audit the payouts in two or four or six years time and decide the payments were made improperly. At that time, the GSA could and would require the funds be returned.
The logic goes like this: The town and county can’t say these areas are so toxic and dangerous they require emergency disaster funds to clean up while at the same time allowing people to live in RVs and trailers the same areas. If they are allowed to live there, the funds cannot be used. If they don’t live there, the funds can be used.
My understanding is the FEMA leaders also provided examples of past disasters where the GSA had pulled back hundreds of millions of dollars from local cities, towns and counties.
The situation is stark: Get these Camp Fire survivors out of RVs and trailers on burned parcels, or lose this money. And as we all know, though it is hard to admit, if this money doesn’t come Paradise, Magalia and Concow will never be cleared. We will never have our communities to be rebuilt.
Two irritating side-notes… FEMA is fine with people living in unburned houses just as close for some reason, which is a point of illogic I’ve seen frustrate Paradise and county officials alike. Also, though FEMA was demanding these changes and was aware of the disruption to Camp Fire survivors, they did not send representatives to either the county or Paradise town meetings discussing these rule changes.
The burden these Camp Fire Survivors are lifting for us all
So here’s where we are: The fire’s pain was distributed almost equally. Rich and poor, old and young, new resident and 5th generation townsperson all lost. We all ran. We’re all looking for a place to live and a moment of normalcy.
We all wait for the day when we can return to the places we loved.
But the burden to make sure these funds are safe is not shared equally. It is falling on those most eager, most ready to return and begin the rebuilding. They are being asked leave the area of the Camp Fire again.
All of us survivors, those in Chico, Oroville, Gridley, Red Bluff and farther out are depending on the town, the county and these few survivors to get this right so we can rebuild.
That’s why these survivors need the help of all of us.
What we can do for them
I don’t have this all worked out, but listening to the hardships these citizens shared at the Paradise Town Meeting and Butte County Board of Supervisors Meeting, moving again is as cruel a blow as we can imagine.
For many, it’s a move too much. They spent what hard cash they had getting their RVs and trailers back to their parcels. Some just can’t afford to move again, and none deserve it. But they must so we can all have a town again.
The best information available is they need to move for as much as three months, while the CAL OES teams clear their plots first… which allows them to return in their RV and trailers with the minimal possible disruption.
So what’s needed? I think we need a movement of Camp Fire survivors to help these newly displaced neighbors. We need a portion of the funds, resources and programs already donated to be dedicated to these Camp Fire Refugees 2.0 to make it possible for them to move as easily and painlessly as possible.
I’m not in the position to orchestrate all this, but the internet is a beautiful thing to organize a lot of people quickly.
Please post below if you know someone who’s in this tough spot and could use help.
Also, please post below organizations or people who could help.
And if you have suggestions on how to do this, please let’s get this organized.
These are Camp Fire victims who are doing something tough, unfair and painful which will help us all. They are taking the hit. Let’s do what we can to help them.