Jamie Cottle holds his son, Tyler, in a makeshift camp near a Walmart.

In a Walmart lot in California, a rough refuge for wildfire evacuees

Firefighters are still battling the colossal blazes that have claimed 80 lives

By Simon Romero/New York Times News Service in Chico (California)
  • Published 19.11.18, 2:59 PM
  • Updated 29.11.18, 5:47 PM
  • a min read
  •  

After Jarrad Winter escaped on foot from the wildfire that destroyed his home in Magalia, California, and then caught a hair-raising ride with a neighbour 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 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 claimed 80 lives, 77 of them in Butte County north of Sacramento, where the Camp Fire has raged. Nearly 1,300 people remain missing and unaccounted for.

As of Sunday evening, the Camp Fire, which has burned nearly 150,000 acres, was about 65 per cent 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.


c.2018 New York Times News Service

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Photo Credit: New York Times News Service
Evacuees displaced by the Camp Fire gather in a makeshift camp near a Walmart in Chico, California.
New York Times News Service
Photo Credit: New York Times News Service
Jarrad Winter, who escaped on foot from the wildfire that destroyed his home, in a makeshift camp near a Walmart in Chico, California.
New York Times News Service
Photo Credit: New York Times News Service
People sort through clothes at a distribution centre in the parking lot of a Target in Chico, California.
New York Times News Service
Photo Credit: New York Times News Service
Clothes line racks at a distribution centre in the parking lot of a Target in Chico, California.
New York Times News Service
Photo Credit: New York Times News Service
Anjeanette Ramey, who was displaced by the Camp Fire, said: “My house, my car, gone... No money, no job. I have no idea what happens next.”
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