CHICO (CBS SF/CNN) — Driven from their homes by the destructive flames of the Camp Fire, thousands of evacuees have fled to shelters and makeshift camps in parking lots in nearby Chico, creating the seeds of a humanitarian disaster.
The forced exodus of 52,000 residents has swelled the population of the college town, putting an enormous strain on local resources and services — particularly housing.
“They (officials) are talking a lot about giving out free food, toiletries and all that but what about shelter, that’s the main concern,” said Christina Flores, who lost her home in Paradise.
“It’s a human tragedy,” added Paradise evacuee Lance Watts.
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Chico’s housing market was already tight before the Camp Fire with the annual influx of Chico State students and also evacuees from the Redding area after the devastating Carr Fire.
“You start with the fact the Carr Fire was very close to here so there weren’t a lot of places to go (for housing),” said Pastor Ron Zimmer. “Everyone was filling hotel rooms already. So when you have a disaster at all you going to run out of places to put people. A disaster of this magnitude is unprecedented.”
FEMA officials agree that many of the evacuees may be forced to move elsewhere.
“Probably,” said FEMA’s Jovanna Garcia when asked about relocating evacuees. “We want to try and bring them back in but we have to right now get them the shelter we need.”
Watts seems resigned to having to move out of the area.
“I know what they are trying to do, they are trying to get people to move outside Chico and Oroville,” he told KPIX 5. “You have 52,000 people who came down from the mountain with no where to go. You can’t just double the population a city Chico overnight and expect that to hold.”