BUTTE COUNTY (KPIX 5) — Thousands of evacuees from the Camp Fire have been struggling to begin putting their lives back together since the devastating blaze broke out in the Sierra foothills last Thursday.
The Walmart parking lot in Chico has turned into a chaotic makeshift refugee center. Fire victims have gathered there, accepting donations of food, blankets, shoes and clothing with many are sleeping in their cars parked in the lot.
The emotions are starting to sink in.
“I lost my home, my sister lost her home, my daughter lost her home,” said fire victim Becky Dearing. “Everybody that I know has lost their home. Yeah, it’s devastating.”
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“When they were sitting there talking to me yesterday, they were in shock,” said Melissa Contant, a volunteer from Martinez. “But when they’re talking today, they’re like…the realization is coming.”
“Well, to be totally honest with you, I went on automatic drive. I was totally on automatic,” said fire victim
Gloria Wright. “I had to pick up my granddaughter at school. I picked her up and she was hysterical. So I stayed calm. You have to. And the second my son got around in my car, I haven’t stopped crying.”
Those left with nothing are picking through thousands and thousands of donations of clothes and food. Donations have been brought from all over Northern California and the Bay Area, including the famous Twerkulator party bus owned by Vallejo resident Curtis Nelson.
“We have picked up from Concord, Walnut Creek, Vallejo,” said Nelson. “And just collected a bunch of stuff and brought it to the people who need it the most.”
Some fire victims are still coming to terms with accepting help when it was they who had given to victims in past disasters.
“To come here and get donations when we’re generally the ones donating, it’s humbling,” said fire victim Becky Dearing. “But what are you going to do? What are you going to do? I’m going to take the help that’s offered. I mean, I have to.”
While donations continue to stream in, the Walmart parking lot is not designated as a formal shelter. No one is in charge and people are bringing items here because, in some cases, the donations were turned away at other shelters.
It’s not clear how long Walmart and Chico city officials are going to allow them to operate.
More evacuees who lost their homes were staying at a designated shelter in Cherokee.
“This is all we have, said Tammy Hollowell, who lost her home in Paradise. And this is just how everybody is living right now.”
With a couple suitcases, their dog, and the drawing their daughter made of their escape from the fire, Hallowell and her family landed at a motel in Oroville Monday after spending the previous night in Chico.
“Fortunately they gave us a room here, because you can’t return to paradise.”
Currently there are very few places to go in Butte County. The disaster has spilled across county lines as people move farther and farther out, just looking for a place to be.
“We stayed a night at somebody’s house that we didn’t even know, said Paradise evacuee Kathy Crosland. “Then we got reservations here in Marysville.”
The Comfort Suites in Marysville is certainly not an official shelter, but it may as well be. The manager has even organized a clothing drive in the lobby.
“She even did a full dinner for us, she has gone beyond to help us, honestly, everyone.”
But across the region, there are those without a room even if they had the money to pay for one.
“Just parked, sleeping in their cars,” said Hollowell. “Nowhere to go.”
“It’s the walking wounded. You can see it in their face. They’re at a loss,” said David Crosland.
This story in Marysville could be told from any motel you can find within hours of the camp fire.
“30 to 50 thousand people up there, We all have to go some place,” said Camp Fire victim Earl Adams.
A total of 52,000 residents have been evacuated due to the fire. Currently there are over 13,000 people being housed in shelters.