Camp wildfire evacuees in a makeshift tent city outside a Walmart in Chico are refusing to leave, despite incoming storms and pressure from both the store and the city.
On Tuesday afternoon, many people were installing pallets and hay bales to keep their tents off the soon-to-be-drenched ground. This was despite megaphone announcements and posted signs directing people to a n American Red Cross shelter in Gridley, about a half hour’s drive away. A bus pulled up at 4 p.m. to relocate evacuees and their belongings, but only one woman wanted to board.
There were 96 tents set up outside the Walmart on Tuesday, down from 136 the previous day.
Tuesday night, Walmart employees began posting signs asking people to leave, according to The Sacramento Bee.
Adam Faletti, a volunteer living at the camp, told CapRadio it’s unfair to ask people who have already been displaced to pack up and leave again.
“Are we going to be here forever? No,” he said. “But who picks the arbitrary date when it’s OK for [an evacuee] to move on to somewhere else because it’s inconvenient for a corporation to have him sleeping in the field?”
Walmart previously said in a statement that the grassy area outside its store is not a viable solution for evacuees, and that it would work with the city of Chico to find a safer place.
The lot drew hundreds of displaced Butte County residents in the days after the Camp fire, when few indoor beds were available. On Tuesday, it was a sprawling patchwork of tents, tarps and vehicles, all situated around a central pile of donated food and clothing.
Many of the campers said they wouldn’t leave over fears they’d be separated from their pets. Others wanted to stay close to the Paradise area, to see if their homes burned down.
Faletti said some have substance abuse issues that wouldn’t fly in the sanctioned shelters.
Butte County officials said small animals would be accommodated at the Gridley location.
“People staying in the parking lot are not being forced to leave,” the county said in a statement Saturday. “However, rain is currently in the weather forecast for the area in the next several days, and Butte County and the City of Chico want to ensure that all evacuees displaced by the Camp Fire have a safe, dry, and clean place to stay.”
The lot is now occupied by both evacuees and some of Chico’s chronically homeless residents.
Christian Walters, who has been displaced since the Camp Fire drove him from his trailer in Paradise, said some of homeless people have been raiding the donated supplies. In an effort to get out of the camp, he recently visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery center at the Chico mall, which opened Friday, to get on the list for a motel room.
“Before FEMA showed up, it was just people walking around bumping into each other,” he said.
Tammy Jo Waller, an evacuee from Magalia who moved to Walmart after leaving an Oroville shelter where she feared she would get sick, hadn’t been to the FEMA center yet. On Tuesday, she just wanted to get indoors. She called her journey so far “a nightmare.”
“I don’t understand the logic at all,” she said of people determined to stay at the camp. “All I want is a shower.”
The problem of where to place people who’ve lost their homes will be a difficult one to solve. There was a shortage of affordable housing in Butte County even before the fire, according to officials.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.