Fire evacuees want to know: Is my house still standing?

- Evacuees from the Camp Fire in Butte County packed an Oroville Theatre Monday night.

They heard about firefighting progress, with 117,000 acres burned, and 30 percent containment. 

They also heard tragic news about the death toll: 13 more victims bringing the total to 42.

The fire is now the most destructive and deadliest in California history. 

But many evacuees came to the meeting with one question in mind: does their house still stand? 

"No idea, absolutely no idea if it burned or not," Paradise evacuee Theresa May told KTVU, "but I'm here, I'm not burned and that's all that really counts." 

Butte County announced it will soon launch a website for residents to search an address and find out the status of the property. 

Some evacuees feel their smaller towns are being overshadowed. 

"All we're hearing about is Paradise and Magalia, " said Concow evacuee Laura McMaster, " and nothing about Concow but we're a community too, and we've lost everything too." 

The strain and fatigue of the past five days was evident on the faces in the crowd. 

Dozens of hands went up when the audience was asked how many people had been displaced by the fire. 

The room filled with applause when a speaker noted how "thousands of lives were saved" by fire and police personnel on day one. 

Before and after the presentations, evacuees studied maps in the lobby of the State movie theater.

CalFire personnel were on hand to explain where the fire has been and where it remains active. 

Even in Oroville, which did not burn, some residents say they have their cars packed, just in case. 

"My parents lived in Coffey Park in Santa Rosa," Oroville resident Holly Cross told KTVU.

"They lost their home and no one ever imagined that could happen. We live in a town. It could happen."

The fire zones are still too hazardous to allow residents back in. 

"I know you're tired, I'm tired too," said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, at a briefing at 6 pm in Chico.

Honea said he is requesting teams of cadaver dogs to help speed the recovery of victims.

He is also expecting rapid result DNA testing equipment that will allow identification more swiftly.  

Honea implored evacuees not to try to sneak into evacuated areas or harrass law enforcement at checkpoints or on the phone. 

"Don't call my dispatchers to cuss, yell, berate," said Honea, " I know you're hurting, I respect that, my heart is with you."   

With seven percent of Butte County's housing stock destroyed, elected leaders expect some people will move out-of-county, at least temporarily, especially if their place of employment burned down too.

A special task force is being formed, and with the Federal Major Disaster Declaration, FEMA will be arriving, and a local assistance center will offer a one-stop shop for survivor services.  

"Unfortunately we're good at this now, but we will get people back in their houses, we will get that done," Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Lambert told KTVU. 

Lambert says past fires, and the failure of the Oroville Dam spillway, gave the county experience in evacuation and displacement, although not on the scale seen now. 

"We're still in shock mode, we're still on fire, fire is still burning," said Lambert, " and what's happened hasn't even sunk in yet, and won't, not next week or the week after, but months from now." 

 

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