Wildfire Survivors Endure Homelessness, Toxic Air, Hazardous Water, & Virus Outbreak

Chico, CA – The most deadly and destructive wildfire in the history of California, known as the “Camp Fire”, continues to burn just outside of Chico. On November 20, the total number of human remains found rose to 79 people. Some of these remains have yet to be positively identified. Currently, authorities say Camp Fire has burned 151,373 acres, destroyed over 12,000 homes and commercial structures and is currently estimated at 70% containment.

As more data comes in from government agencies, a clearer and much more grim picture of events is emerging. Nearly 700 people are now believed to be missing. The scale of destruction and the likely death toll are much higher than most people originally believed. Numbers of people found dead are expected to continue rising, as anthropologists, cadaver dogs, and teams of coroners continue to search the vast area of destruction.

The Camp Fire is just one of over a dozen major wildfires continuing to burn in the state of California. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated and are scattered throughout the state, seeking refuge in temporary shelters, impromptu tent cities, and store parking lots. Luigi Balsamo, an organizer for the donation hub in the Walmart parking lot in Chico, shared news he received on Thursday that the operation outside the Chico Walmart where hundreds of evacuated locals have been living for the last week must be shut down on Sunday.

Tent City at Chico Walmart in California

At the Walmart in Chico, word circulated throughout the camp that all evacuees needed to be out of the tent city by Sunday at 1PM. Some said the order came from FEMA, others say it was the Red Cross. Both the Red Cross and Walmart have since denied asking Camp Fire evacuees to leave the property.

Volunteers providing free food at the Walmart tent city in Chico, California

On Sunday afternoon, Unicorn Riot live-streamed footage from the Chico Walmart parking lot. No FEMA raid occurred, however many evacuees moved their tents from the Walmart parking lot to the open field next to it, and the large tent encampment is still there and occupied by many people.

Conditions remain hazardous as thousands of people are now living in tight, squalid conditions. Recently, a Norovirus outbreak was reported in several shelters with some evacuees being placed in an improvised quarantine.

Meanwhile, extremely poor air quality continues to plague California in a shroud of highly toxic and hazardous smoke. Northern California’s air this last week has wildly been cited as “the worst air quality in the world” because of the recent wildfires.

There is also a continued health advisory in effect for many counties stating that people should also boil tap water to avoid becoming sick.

On Monday, November 19, the Trump Administration’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed the wildfires on “radical environmentalists”

“I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them.” – U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

The remarks from Interior Secretary Zinke come days after California Governor Jerry Brown blamed climate change deniers for “contributing to the tragedies we are witnessing, and will continue to witness in the coming years.” Governor Brown went on to state that the negative impacts climate change has had on the region will only get worse over the coming decades. Governor Brown also said that he might redeploy National Guard troops along the border to help fight the wildfires.

Although investigations into the cause of the wildfire continue, many people claim that a faulty PG&E power line, coupled with dry conditions from droughts caused by climate change, are likely to blame.

See our first report on Camp Fire here.

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