An animal sanctuary, a car, a trailer parked near a brothel — all are places where Jennifer Porter, her two parents and their 10 pets have slept since they lost their homes in the Camp Fire last November.
“We aren’t willing to split up, because we are all we have,” said Jennifer Porter, 35, a former emergency department nurse at Butte County’s Feather River Hospital, which was also partially scorched during the firestorm.
The Porters are among the 32,000 people who evacuated the deadly Paradise fire last fall, and at least 1,300 people who are still looking for permanent, stable living accommodations.
That’s according to Butte County Director of Employment and Social Services Shelby Boston, who was citing recent data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Boston said there are many ways families have put roofs over their head.
“They [may be] sleeping on a relative’s couch or in a spare bedroom,” said Boston. “I’ve heard stories of people staying in garages that have been converted. Lots of people who I know personally, from Paradise and the ridge … purchased an RV, or were loaned or were donated an RV, and are camping on folks property.”
Dozens of other families are still in hotels, or are living in tents, said Boston, and they’ve spread out to almost every state in the country.
But many like the Porters are trying to stay as close as possible to Butte County, where they once lived and worked.
Jennifer Porter bought a used RV and is now living in a trailer park in Los Molinos, a half hour north of Chico, right on the Sacramento River. Dozens of other Camp Fire evacuees and clean-up workers have also been coming and going from the park.
During the rainy spring, Jennifer Porter said, residents here were disrupted by a different kind of bad weather: flooding.
“The last time it rained, the water was up to my third step in my trailer. So, you open your door and you’re literally in the middle of a lake,” she recounted.
Her parents, Linda and Steven Porter, set up their own used trailer just feet away. Her two aunts, family friends and all their pets are at the park with them, too.
They keep each other laughing. They grill food at night, and browse on their phones for houses to purchase in Tehama County.
The family’s gotten by on savings and meager insurance payouts, but they don’t have enough to rebuild. Jennifer Porter is planning to take out a government loan to buy a place for a handful of her adult family members to live in together.
“[I want to] get everybody moved in and settled and happy, and get my career back on track,” she said. Getting settled down in a new home will help her figure out her new identity.
“Because who I was is gone. It’s like starting over a whole new life,” she said.
Jennifer Porter’s not sure if she’ll return to Paradise. For now, she’s just trying to find stable ground, with the help of a therapist, her faith and her family.