In a Walmart Lot, a Rough Refuge for Wildfire Evacuees





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Fires are raging across California, fueled by very dry conditions and strong Santa Ana winds. The blazes have forced evacuations and killed dozens of people. 
(Pictured) Flames burn inside a van as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018. 












Residents watch the motorcade pass during President Donald Trump’s visit of the Camp Fire in Chico, on Nov. 17.












Forensic anthropologist Kyra Stull, center, works with coroners to recover human remains from a trailer home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, on Nov. 17.












Evacuees sift through a pile of clothing at an evacuee encampment in a Walmart parking lot in Chico, on Nov. 17. 












Firefighters move debris while recovering human remains from a trailer home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, Nov. 17.












President Donald Trump looks at a map as he visits with first responders and local officials at an operations center responding to the wildfires on Nov. 17 in Chico.












President Donald Trump, centre, looks on with Paradise Mayor Jody Jones, second right, Governor of California Jerry Brown, right, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, second left, and Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newson, as they view damage from wildfires on Nov. 17 in Paradise.












President Donald Trump greets California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom as he arrives on Air Force One for a visit to areas impacted by the wildfires, on Nov. 17 at Beale Air Force Base.












President Donald Trump waves as he arrives on Air Force One at Beale Air Force Base for a visit to areas impacted by the wildfires on Nov. 17.












After losing their home in Magalia in the Camp Fire, Robin Tompkins and her son, Lukas, line up for a free meal in a makeshift evacuation center in Chico, Calif. on Nov. 16.












Randy Greb, who lost his house in Paradise in the Camp Fire, talks with employees of the Butte County Department of Employment and Social Services near his tent in a makeshift evacuation center in Chico, Calif. on Nov. 16.












Tera Hickerson, right, and Columbus Holt embrace as they look at a board with information for services at a makeshift encampment outside a Walmart store for people displaced by the Camp Fire, on Nov. 16, in Chico, Calif. The two, from Paradise, Calif., escaped the fire and don’t know if their house is still standing.












The Golden Gate Bridge is obscured by smoke and haze from wildfires on Nov. 16, in this view from Fort Baker near Sausalito. 












Mattelin Bautista and Stephen Penner don masks to deal with the smoke from the Camp Fire on Nov. 15, in Sacramento. Smoke from the blaze that burned through the Butte County city of Paradise is creating a health hazard that experts say could lead to an increase in serious health problems, especially for children and the elderly.












A canyon home was left untouched amid the surrounding charred and blackened hillsides from the Woolsey Fire along Lobo Canyon Road in Agoura Hills, as seen on Nov. 15. 












Michael John Ramirez and his wife Charlie Ramirez return to their burned down home for the first time to try to recover documents and other valuables in their safe after the Camp Fire razed through Paradise, on Nov. 15.












Volunteer rescue workers search for human remains in the rubble of burned homes in Paradise, on Nov. 15.












Smoke hangs over the scorched remains of Old Town Plaza following the wildfire in Paradise,  on Nov. 15.












Travis Lee Hogan, of Paradise, comforts his mother, Bridgett Hogan, while they stay at a makeshift evacuation center for people displaced by the Camp Fire in Chico, on Nov. 15.












A before photo is placed on the remains of a building leveled in the Woolsey Fire at decimated Paramount Ranch during U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s visit to the ranch, on Nov. 15 in Agoura Hills.












Camp Fire evacuee Mark Feil holds his dog Ginger as he camps in a Walmart parking lot on Nov. 15 in Chico.












Members of the California Army National Guard take a break as they search burned homes for human remains from the Camp Fire, on Nov. 15, in Paradise.












In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 15. 












A search and rescue worker, looking for Camp Fire victims, carries Susie Q. to safety after the cadaver dog fell through rubble at the Holly Hills Mobile Estates on Nov. 14 in Paradise.












A pebble is seen at a donation fair for fire evacuees camping at a parking lot in Chico, on Nov 14. 












Volunteer Cathryn Flores classifies clothes at a donation fair for fire evacuees camping at a parking lot in Chico, on Nov. 14.












Ken Pimlott, head of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, left, shows California Gov. Jerry Brown where smoke is still rising from a smoldering tree during a tour of the fire ravaged Paradise Elementary School on Nov. 14 in Paradise.












Volunteers cook at a donation fair for fire evacuees camping at a parking lot in Chico, on Nov. 14.












Ventura County Firefighters Chief, Mark Lorenzen speaks at the Informational Town Hall organized by the County of Ventura in partnership with the city of Thousand Oaks at Thousand Oaks City Hall, on Nov. 14.












LACO Fire Department engineer David Dantic looks at a map of the free area with Malibu resident Michelle Kwiatkowski before a town hall at Santa Monica High School to address questions from people about the Woolsey Fire.












Trish Moutard, center, of Sacramento, searches for human remains with her cadaver dog, I.C., in a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, on Nov. 14.












Members of the Chabad of Agoura Hills hold a sign thanking firefighters for the work they did during the Woolsey Fire as the walk down Canwood St to Los Angeles County Fire Station 89 in Agoura Hills, on Nov 14.












Denise Chester, an evacuee of the Camp Fire, volunteers sorting clothes at a makeshift shelter in Chico, on Nov. 14. Chester, who doesn’t want to know yet whether her home survived, said “I want to help. I don’t want to shut down.” 












Katherine Marinara and her son Luca find what they came back to look for, old family photographs, at their burnt down house on Busch Drive in Malibu, on Nov. 13. 












Messages are shown on a bulletin board at The Neighborhood Church in Chico, on Nov. 13.












A large plume of smoke from a wildfire near Lake Sherwood can be seen from Malibu, on Nov. 13. 












People gather informational pamphlets during a town hall at Santa Monica High School to address questions from people about the Woolsey Fire, on Nov. 13.












A firefighter battles wildfire near a freeway in Simi Valley, on Nov. 12.












Samantha Esau, 19, of Chico, and Emily Garcia of Magalia take in stray cats from an evacuated home in Paradise, on Nov. 12. 












Southern California Edison Electric Company works on power lines destroyed by the Woosley Fire in Malibu, on Nov. 12. 












Chris and Nancy Brown embrace while searching through the remains of their home, leveled by the Camp Fire, in Paradise, on Nov. 12. 












People band together to load food and supplies onto Kevin Michaels’ boat in Marina Del Rey on Nov. 12. Since access to Malibu has been cut off to vehicles, Michaels has been ferrying people and supplies on his boat Clueless up to Malibu and Paradise Cove. 












An air tanker drops water on a fire along the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway in Simi Valley, on Nov. 12. 












Firefighter sprays water from a fire truck as they battle the Woolsey fire in West Hills on Nov. 11.












Mark Leavenworth of the Oroville Nazarene Church holds a sign with names to help reconnect those displaced by the Camp Fire outside the emergency shelter in Chico, on Nov. 11.












Evacuee Brian Etter and dog Tone, who walked on foot to escape the Camp Fire, rest in the parking lot in Chico on Nov. 11.












Cathy Fallon (C), who stayed behind to tend to her horses during the Camp Fire, embraces Shawna De Long (L) and April Smith, who brought supplies for the horses on Nov. 11, in Paradise.












A tattered flag flies over a burned-out home on Nov. 11, in Paradise.












Krystin Harvey, left, comforts her daughter Araya Cipollini at the remains of their home burned in the Camp Fire, on Nov. 10 in Paradise.












A deer walks past a destroyed home on Orrin Lane after the wildfire burned through on Nov. 10 in Paradise.












Capt. Steve Millosovich carries a cage of cats while battling the Camp Fire on Nov. 9 in Big Bend.












Embers falls from burning palms and the sun is obscured by smoke as flames close in on a house at the Woolsey Fire on Nov. 9 in Malibu.












A vineyard burns overnight during a wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks on Nov. 9.












Flames consume a Kentucky Fried Chicken as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, on Nov. 8. 












A vintage car rests among debris on Nov. 8. 












A home burns as the Camp Fire rages on Nov. 8.






56/56 SLIDES



Slideshow by photo services
CHICO, Calif. — After Jarrad Winter escaped on foot from the wildfire that destroyed his home in Magalia, Calif., and then caught a hair-raising ride with a neighbor through the flames and out of the hills to safety in Chico, he was at wits’ end. Like dozens of other survivors, he found refuge in the field by the local Walmart.
“I never thought I’d live in a tent city,” said Mr. Winter, 39, a Marine Corps veteran and software developer who had recently emerged from a stretch of homelessness, only to lose everything he owned in the devastating Camp Fire, the deadliest California wildfire on record. “I mean, this is America; we’re not supposed to live this way. But here we are, man, the new normal.”
Firefighters are still battling the colossal blazes in California that have already claimed 79 lives, 76 of them in Butte County north of Sacramento, where the Camp Fire has raged. Nearly 1,300 people remain missing and unaccounted for.
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As of Sunday afternoon, the Camp Fire, which has already burned nearly 150,000 acres, was about 60 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
While the struggle to contain the fires continues, many evacuees are collecting in makeshift settlements outside the scorch zones, and wondering how they will pick up the pieces to extricate themselves from this tragedy.
Some who fled from Magalia, Paradise and other burned towns in the forested Sierra Nevada foothills of eastern Butte County are staying in the tent city at the Chico Walmart. Others sleep in their cars over at the Target parking lot. Then there are those who are relying on the kindness of strangers, or going from one shelter to the next.

Officials made it clear on Sunday that they did not want the Walmart tent camp to become a permanent fixture in Chico. While emphasizing that no one in the camp would be forced to leave, they said in a statement that they were assisting people who wanted to leave by relocating them to a site at the county fairgrounds. There are six American Red Cross shelters for fire evacuees, county officials said.
California is the richest state in the country, home to technology giants like Google and Facebook and the multimillionaires who lost luxury homes around Malibu to wildfires this month. But the blazes are also laying bare the economic inequality that distinguishes the state, as shallow-pocketed survivors grasp for the kinds of ad hoc strategies commonly seen after disasters in the developing world.
“We were always a paycheck-to-paycheck kind of town,” said Anjeanette Ramey, 30, who had worked in customer service in Magalia but was unemployed when the fire hit.
“All I made it out with were the clothes on my back,” she said on Sunday morning, gazing at the Walmart tent city, where she has stayed for several days. “My house, my car, gone. No money, no job. I have no idea what happens next.”
Her boyfriend’s reaction was more about suspicion and anger. He declined to give his name, saying he didn’t want to be known as a victim, and said the couple was avoiding formal shelters because he thought they were unsafe for people like him and his neighbors, who he thought counted for little with the rich and powerful.










Jarrad Winter escaped on foot from the wildfire that destroyed his home in Magalia, Calif.












“Being here, in this parking lot, I’m reminded I’m not the only one,” said James Reed, whose house in Magalia, bought two years ago, was destroyed by the Camp Fire.












Anjeanette Ramey has stayed at the Walmart tent city for several days. “My house, my car, gone,” she said. “No money, no job. I have no idea what happens next.”












Some who fled from Magalia, Paradise and other towns in the foothills of Butte County, Calif., are staying in a tent city at a Walmart in Chico.






4/4 SLIDES



With reliable information in short supply, dark rumors and speculation spreads easily in the tent city and other places where evacuees are camping.
People in the tents said there had been talk a few days ago that the authorities were planning to clear them out. But guards with the private security firm that patrols the Walmart property said there were no plans to evict the evacuees.
Clad in bulletproof vests, they pointed to the portable toilets that had been set up in the parking lot, and the donated food and clothing that had been made available to those in the tents.
The Walmart lot, which had emerged as an unofficial distribution site for aid, also features a whiteboard with names of people who are missing from the fires, and a list of shelters that have available beds.
Some of the tent people say they have not gone to shelters because they find security in numbers at the Walmart; others say they like being near friends and neighbors who also lost their houses.
“This is my home now,” said James Reed, 65, a retired tow-truck driver, pointing to his 1968 Chevrolet El Camino. His house in Magalia, bought two years ago, was destroyed, he said, and “being here, in this parking lot, I’m reminded I’m not the only one.”
Mr. Reed, wearing an AC/DC baseball cap, said he was still trying to make sense of what had happened. He said he was getting used to sleeping in his car, enduring temperatures that have been dipping down close to freezing at night.
“Right now, I’m like a snake on a rock, warming up a little bit,” Mr. Reed said around midday. “Getting out of that fire was like a B-rated horror movie. I never thought I’d see something like this in this country.”
The camp at the Walmart has become a place for fire evacuees to connect and share information with another group they suddenly have a lot in common with. People who were already living on Chico’s streets before the blazes started have flocked to the parking lot, not least to partake in some of the free food.
Robert Talk, 61, a former amusement park worker, said he enjoyed telling jokes and sharing gossip with the evacuees. He said that his small dog, Princeton Peabody, interacts effortlessly with strangers, making it easy to start conversations with people in the camp.
“We’re kind of all in the same boat now, aren’t we?” Mr. Talk remarked. “It’s good for normal folk to realize we’re just like them. A lot of us are in this situation through no fault of our own. Maybe this’ll open eyes, so we can start helping each other more.”
One new resident of the tent camp, Kelly Clark, said that she appreciated meeting Mr. Talk and his dog and talking about how the fires were still raging around them. With a smile, she pointed to her tent and said: “Look at my new condo. Luxurious, isn’t it?”
Ms. Clark, 39, said that money was now a problem after the house where she lived with her boyfriend was destroyed. She said she was unemployed, and wondered how much longer they could sleep rough outside the Walmart. She, too, was wary about going to one of the shelters, saying she had heard talk that viruses were spreading there.
“I just feel freer out here, like I’m not locked up inside with a bunch of other people crying about what they lost,” Ms. Clark said. “When it starts raining, maybe then we’ll make a move. But until then, we’re staying put.”
There is rain in the forecast for Wednesday.


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