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Frustration Grows With FEMA As Thousands Are Still Stranded In Shelters Following Camp Fire


Three weeks after the start of California's most deadly and destructive wildfire - the Camp Fire in Butte County - thousands of people are still living in shelters and tents or staying with friends and relatives. FEMA has been providing hotel vouchers and other options to displaced people. But it hasn't been enough to house everybody, and frustrations are growing. From member station KQED, Sonja Hutson reports.

SONJA HUTSON, BYLINE: At an empty lot next to a Chico Walmart, dozens of tents house survivors of the Camp Fire. People have put wooden pallets under their tents to stay dry. Ulis Gordon has been staying in a tent here since he was forced to flee from his home three weeks ago in Magalia, just outside Paradise, the town that was nearly burned to the ground as the fire swept through.

What's that been like?

ULIS GORDON: Cold. And then, of course, you know, we get the people who are stealing our stuff - clothes, boots. My dad got me a pair of boots for Christmas. Those got taken out right in front of the tent. It kind of pisses me off.

HUTSON: Gordon says he and other fire survivors need FEMA to set up trailers to temporarily house displaced people.

GORDON: FEMA should've already had this set in Day 5. They have them rolled up. Drop them. I mean, they're already pre-set units. So what is the problem with getting them here?

JOVANNA GARCIA: We can't just go ahead and put these mobile homes at any place.

HUTSON: That's FEMA spokeswoman Jovanna Garcia.

GARCIA: We can't just say, let's go into a commercial site and put it there without looking at the infrastructure of it. What - I'll see if there's electricity, water, sewer.

HUTSON: Garcia says FEMA has 80 trailers ready to go. But that would barely begin to house the 2,000 people the agency says need them. And they still have to find locations for the trailers they do have. It's unclear how long that will take. In the meantime, FEMA has been handing out hotel vouchers. But those only last 90 days. The agency expects fire survivors could live in the trailers as long as 18 months. Just as Butte County has been heavily focused on recovery from the fire, evacuation orders were issued again on Thursday in some of the same areas for something very different.


AUTOMATED VOICE: Flood warning - a flash flood warning has been issued for your location.

HUTSON: In a canyon on the outskirts of Chico, water is flowing over a small two-lane road to the point that it's hard to distinguish the edge of the road from the muddy field next to it. Audra Goff is loading her family into their SUV outside their house.

AUDRA GOFF: I'm just - I hope our home survives this time, you know? That's the only thing I could hope for. We have our family out, so that's the most important thing.

HUTSON: A line of cars drive out of the canyon while Army National Guard high-water vehicles, sheriff's cars and firetrucks rumble in. John Gaddie is a captain with Cal Fire.

JOHN GADDIE: We have done some rescues. They have been successful. We have got people out of their houses. We did have a vehicle up here that was stuck in the water. We did get people out of that vehicle.

HUTSON: Officials are also watching out for mudslides. The burned earth in parts of the flood area are particularly susceptible to them. For NPR News, I'm Sonja Hutson in Chico.


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