Wildfire crews have gained some ground on the Camp Fire burning in Butte County. It’s now listed at 40 percent containment, with more than 10,000 structures destroyed. Many of those buildings were homes. And those numbers could grow.
The shear number of people evacuated is exacerbating an already troubled housing situation in Butte County. Ed Mayer, the executive director of the county’s housing agency, joined CapRadio’s Randol White on Insight with an update on the crisis. Here are highlights from their conversation:
On the challenge of finding housing for Camp Fire evacuees
The challenge is of course is that we've got 6 or 7,000, maybe more, displaced families from Paradise. They're not going to find housing in our county anytime soon. We already had a very low — effectively zero — vacancy rate here.
So the long and the short of it is we're looking at 6 to 7,000 families who we can either choose to try to keep in place as long as possible over the many years it will take to rebuild the community, to be able to reintegrate them, or the plain and simple of the matter is that they're going to have to go somewhere else, and the prospects are not good in California, which is generally challenged by housing shortages. So we're looking at folks being displaced around the country.
On why he says the Camp Fire is pushing the county toward a humanitarian crisis
The rub in all of this is, of course, we're talking low-income seniors and disabled who really don't have the means to move about the country.
So when we talk of humanitarian crisis pre-Camp Fire, we were talking about the homeless. Where do they go to the bathroom? Where do they shower? How do they care for themselves? And the refugees, refugees that humans generate naturally. That was part of our community discussion.
Now this discussion has just blown up, and we have thousands of families camping out in Wal-Mart parking lots and refugee centers, resettlement centers I guess you'd call them, but it challenges every bit of our system's ability to triage these families. So humanitarian — humanitarian because we have many families, many households, particularly vulnerable, who have no recourse and no place to go.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire segment, in which we’ll also heard from Lori Kobza, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento Air Quality Management District.