PARADISE (KPIX 5) – The town of Paradise could soon lose its FEMA money to rebuild after last year’s deadly Camp Fire, if some residents don’t move out fast.
After the wildfire – the deadliest in California history – burned thousands of homes to the ground in November, the Paradise Town Council had approved an ordinance allowing people who had been burned out of their homes to live in RVs and trailers on their property. But FEMA now says that fire debris must be removed before a property can be re-occupied.
Ignoring the requirement could put up to $1.7 billion federal funds in jeopardy.
On Monday, the town hall officially reopened in Paradise, and officials held an “urgency ordinance” meeting to warn residents on the consequences.
The council voted 5-0 Monday to not allow residents to live on burned properties until they are cleared. The decision came at a contentious and often rowdy town council meeting.
The mayor and council members said they disagreed with FEMA rules, and admit they don’t always make much sense, but hanging in the balance was $1.7 billion in FEMA rebuilding funds, and not one member of the council was going to risk that money.
“If we don’t do it our town will look like a war zone for the next 20 years, because we are broke,” Paradise Mayor Jody Jones told the crowd. “We have no money we have no resources and the reason we don’t make the rules is because will are relying on others who do have those resources to help us, and those resources come with strings.”
In other words, if the debris isn’t gone, no one can live in the trailer, even if the next door neighbor is closer to that debris, and still allowed to live in their home. “It makes absolutely no sense to me,” said Jones.
It is not clear when residents would be given a deadline to leave their properties. About 100 to 400 residents would be affected.
For John Robert Williams the decision to move back to Paradise was an easy one. “FEMA told me that I could move back, and that’s why I did,” Williams explained, walking his Skyline property that burned in the Camp Fire.
Now, he and hundreds of other survivors, are being asked to move again. “They’ve already uprooted their lives one time, and now they’re being asked to do it again,” said Williams. “And it’s going to be traumatic for the people.”
Another council member likened it to a hostage situation. “Yeah, I felt like we had a financial gun to our head,” said Council Member Mike Zuccolillo. “We need that money. Most people up here are under-insured or have no insurance. Who’s going to clean up those properties?”
So Paradise will play by FEMA’s rules, and for those who moved back, there is now a choice to make. “That’s a risk you have to take as an individual,” said trailer resident Adam Deppe. “How long are you going to stay and who’s going to knock on your door.”
Back on Skyline, John Robert Williams said he’s already made his decision. “Pretty much, I’m going to stay here until they force me out,” Williams says. “I’m not leaving just because they say I’ve got to go.”