CHICO (KPIX) – On Friday, hundreds of people displaced by the camp fire were still desperate to figure out a way get a roof over their heads.

With deadline to clear out the makeshift camp set up in the Chico Walmart parking lot looming, the Red Cross trying to accommodate more people about 45 minutes away at the Butte County Fairgrounds.


“All I know is they told us to leave Walmart and this looked like the best option,” said Mark Sutherland, who lost his Paradise home in the fire.

“The volunteers are wonderful. They’re doing everything they can, but people are…their nerves are just rising, said Grover Bonham, who was also left homeless by the fire. Everything rising to the surface. Some people just breaking down.”

There was a sense that the official response to what is basically a sudden and tremendous housing crisis has also broken down a bit this week.

The situation is leaving some folks trying to solve that problem on their own.

A number of fire refugees are now living in the packed East Avenue Church in Chico. Pastor Ron Zimmer said the demand was simply more than anyone could get a hold of in the initial days of the crisis.

“The people that don’t have any other place to go are coming here,” said Zimmer. “The fact that the county stumbled out of the gate makes sense. But they’ve got some feet under them now and they’re doing more. But the need is greater than any one group can respond to.”

When asked where she would be without the church offering shelter, Camp Fire evacuee Dorothy Melton replied, “Nowhere. I would have nothing. I left with nothing and I would have nothing”

As the search for victims continued Friday, the hunt for housing is just ramping up for those who escaped with their lives from the Camp Fire.

Many people who lost their homes in Paradise are uninsured and have nowhere to go. Survivors of the Camp Fire say they’re stuck in limbo, waiting for help.

They don’t have the money for a hotel and they refuse to go to shelters because they can’t take their pets or because they’re concerned about the norovirus outbreak.

Many were asking the same question: “Where is FEMA?”

For hundreds — if not thousands — of Camp Fire victims help isn’t coming quickly enough.

“Now what? We don’t know where to go, what to do. We are hoping for some answers,” said one fire victim.

But those answers aren’t likely to come from FEMA.

Despite popular impression, FEMA officials say their response is initially meant to take a back seat to local aid.

In fact, the process is designed that way.

The fire broke out on the morning of November 8th. That same day, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for California

Three days later, Governor Brown requested federal disaster relief.

After the regional FEMA coordinator consulted with the White House, President Trump declares a federal ‘major disaster declaration’ the following day.

That declaration allows fire victims to register for federal aid and FEMA to mobilize forces on the ground.

In Chico, FEMA opened its disaster recovery center Friday, four days after that federal declaration. FEMA officials said that timeline was incredibly fast.

But plenty waiting in line at the recovery center, and across the street at the makeshift settlement in the Chico Walmart parking lot, disagreed.

“I don’t know what we are going to do. FEMA says its 7-15 days just to let us know,” said evacuee Carol Whitehurst.

KPIX asked FEMA why it hasn’t dispensed hotel vouchers or monetary aid yet.

“Shelters are supposed to fill that gap. That’s the shelters. They serve that function in the transition,” said FEMA worker Brad Pierce. “And of course, right now there’s some public health concerns with some of the shelters, and so that confuses the situation and makes it a little more complicated.”

Friday evening, FEMA contacted KPIX to say that transitional shelter was now available to people who had registered and were deemed eligible.

Comments (40)
  1. All of a sudden californian’s are big believers in Trump’s government? Weird.

  2. How do you live in CA with no insurance? Fires, Earthquakes, Mudslides, etc. Doesn’t CA mandate home insurance, it does everything else.

  3. Jim M. Ryles says:

    I don’t care….let Mexifornia use it’s progressive liberal socialist “feelings” to fix their own made problems….get some of your “illegals” that you pay slave wages to , to clean it up.

  4. Zak Watson says:

    People say there is a RACE problem. People say this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY and ONLY into White countries.

    People say the only solution to the RACE problem is if ALL and ONLY White countries “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-Whites.

    But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against White people, Anti-Whites agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

    Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-White.

    1. She the hell up. No one has any time to listen to your pathological delusions about “white genocide.” Use your energy to offer help to these people or go check in to the nearest mental health clinic. In fact, why don’t you do BOTH.

      1. mjazzguitar says:

        Sarah Jeong said we smell like wet dogs and got hired by the New York Times.
        If I was a writer that said asian women smelled like wet dogs, do you think they would hire me?
        Don Lemon said that white men are the biggest terror threat in the country.
        If he was white and said that about blacks or spanish, do you think he’d still have his job?

  5. Charles Kiser says:

    military connex for shelter. military mobile kitchens and shower stations. This problem is easily handled. How can you mobile 100’s of thousands of troops and see to their basic needs and not handle this.

    1. Dan Purcell says:

      How does California manage to take care of millions of illegal aliens and can’t take care of these American Citizens?

  6. Samuel Green says:

    It took FEMA six months to remove tree debris during Hurricane Irma. FEMA took their time and hired debris removal trucks from out of state via low bids. These trucks arrived that were circa 1970ish, and they were breaking down even before they started clearing the road.

    My community gave up with FEMA and we chainsawed the debri piles and quickly had them removed via local companies.

    FEMA also denied so many claims it was astonishing. Yet people that lied and gamed the FEMA system, made out like bandits, yet the homeowners with massive damage didn’t see one penny.

    If these Californians are counting on FEMA to come to their rescue, I hope they’re not holding their breath. I hope our California friends get back on their feet.

  7. Mensa Graham says:

    And there are still millions of immature children that believe in the federal nanny state as well as Santa Claus.

    Oh, unless you OWN your home without any mortgage you MUST have insurance. Just in case the author of this article was trying to make up a sob story.

  8. Richard Pryor says:

    That is ok, those people are only tax paying US citizens. They don’t count we need to take care of the illegal-alien criminal caravan first. That is the Democratic party future /sarc

  9. Dennis P Kelly says:

    Are you going to tell me those in need are not being offered shelter in the kind homes of those not affected? If just the homes in Chico offered to take in one family for a short time, there would not be an issue here. As for feeling bad, the people affected KNEW of the dangers and did constant evacuation drills. These areas have been threatened dozens of times in the past decades and who did anything about widening escape routes, clearing undergrowth and downed and dead trees near the populated areas? Global warming indeed – how about some common sense?? Yes, it is extremely sad to lose everything you owned, but that is what insurance is for – just last year in the Sonoma Valley, a similar thing happened and less than half the losses were insured. Again, where is the common sense? When the warning went out, people ignored their chances to get out while they could? Again, where is the common sense God gave them?

  10. Dan Purcell says:

    Luckily Gerald Brown anticipated this carnage and has it all under control..

  11. Greg Sorensen says:

    Homeowners insurance pay the policyholder for hotel accommodations. why would any of these people be homeless unless they did not have insurance and then it’s their own fault.

  12. Mike Thomas says:

    I am sure the Federal Gov has all season tents that would serve these people well.
    They are going to be homeless for a long time, it’s time to step up and help US citizens
    before fence jumping illegals.

  13. Fasdf Fasdf says:

    Sorry folks… we’re busy looking after all the ILLEGALS you wanted to bring in.