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Camp Fire Evacuees Celebrate Thanksgiving With Neighbors

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Volunteers in Chico, Calif., spent all day cooking Thanksgiving meals. Their goal? To feed 15,000 people displaced by the fire. Earlier today, I spoke with NPR's Bobby Allyn, who was at one of those citywide dinners.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: So I'm at the Sierra Nevada headquarters brewery, and there's families sitting down together - some of them neighbors, some of them meeting for the first time. But the one thing that they have in common is that they all were evacuated from the Paradise area two weeks ago when the fire broke out. So there's people eating turkey who are, you know, elbow-deep in mashed potatoes, who are just enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner together.

SHAPIRO: I understand you have someone there for us to talk to whose home was burned down in the fire.

ALLYN: Yeah. Her name is Cherise Tamayo, and she's lived in Paradise for a long time with her daughter in a duplex. She's at a table now across from her neighbor, who lived with an infant son. And they evacuated exactly two weeks ago, when the fire broke out. They came here today to get a warm meal, to just bump into some neighbors they haven't seen for a while and to just get some respite because they're really trying to put the pieces back together and figure out where they're going to live in the coming months.

SHAPIRO: OK. Could you hand the phone over?

ALLYN: Yep. Here she is.

SHAPIRO: Hi, Cherise.

CHERISE TAMAYO: Hello.

SHAPIRO: Well, happy Thanksgiving, first of all.

TAMAYO: Well, thank you. You, too.

SHAPIRO: And I know this is not how you expected to be spending it. Can you tell me about how your family's doing right now?

TAMAYO: We're actually doing pretty well. We're a lot luckier than a lot of people.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what happened to your family in the fire. Is your house still intact?

TAMAYO: No, no. We had a duplex. We lived in one half of a duplex. And about 7:20, my daughter dropped off my grandson to be watched, and the fire had already been blazing. I went out to let my dog relieve herself and saw the smoke and asked my daughter if she saw a fire anywhere. And she went outside. We walked up the road, and we actually saw it jump the ridge. At that point, once it jumped the ridge, it was 6 miles from our unit.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

TAMAYO: It took it about 30, 35 minutes to cover that 6 miles of forest.

SHAPIRO: And are you now staying with friends or family or in a tent?

TAMAYO: We were lucky enough to find an RV, and so we are in an RV park. It's myself, my daughter, three grandkids, my son-in-law, three cats and a dog - whew. (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Wow. And is the whole family there having Thanksgiving dinner with all kinds of other people who've lost their homes and are gathered there at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company?

TAMAYO: Oh, yeah. Well, the - my family that I stay with in Woodson Bridge is there still. I'm here with my other daughter. We thought we'd just come by and hopefully run into people that we haven't seen.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. What's the feeling like there today?

TAMAYO: It's almost surreal. I mean, you see a lot of people - there's a lot of people you don't know that you probably haven't even met, even though it's such a small community. But the stories are all so similar. It's - this is going to be something that - I can't even describe it. I mean, you know those natural disaster movies you see on TV?

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

TAMAYO: You never think you're going to go through anything like that in real life. And this is something that everybody here has gone through. And it kind of just brings everyone together, the fact that they can share these experiences and be able to vent some of the stuff they went through. It's just - this is my third fire that I've lost a house to...

SHAPIRO: Oh, my God.

TAMAYO: ...Ironically enough.

SHAPIRO: Really?

TAMAYO: But even having been through the two house fires, this was nothing - nothing - we could hear the fire coming to us. And the fire - I just wish that there was some way to convey to people just what everyone here went through. And there's just no way to do it. There isn't.

SHAPIRO: On this Thanksgiving Day, when so many people in your community have lost so much, how are you thinking about the things that you're thankful for?

TAMAYO: Personally, I'm thankful for my family that's here with me. I'm thankful for the community outreach that's been here and that's been supportive of us emotionally, physically, materially. The firefighters that are leaving their families - there are people here that have lost everything that they had, you know, that are helping with the community. There's just such an endless list of people to thank and be thankful for and things to be thankful for. And I just feel so bad for anyone who's lost any kind of life at all in this event.

SHAPIRO: Well, Cherise Tamayo, thank you so much for talking with us. Happy Thanksgiving.

TAMAYO: Thank you so much. You have a great day. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: You, too.

That was Cherise Tamayo in Chico, Calif., where NPR's Bobby Allyn is covering this Thanksgiving dinner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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