More complications for Paradise residents during post-disaster clean-up
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Around 130 residents of Paradise, California, who have been living on their burned properties in RVs, permitted to do so after the issuing of an emergency ordinance in December by Paradise and county officials, are now being ordered off their properties following new information issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
In November of 2018, the Camp Fire-the most destructive wildfire in California history-effectively destroyed the entire town of Paradise. After 85 civilian casualties and $16.5 billion in damages, the town has begun the largest natural disaster cleanup in California history. FEMA, an agency of the US Department of Homeland Security, responds to disasters when states lack the resources to respond accordingly. FEMA crews have begun the project (projected to take as long as a year) of clearing 15,000 homes devastated by the fire.
The expulsion by the state is a reaction to FEMA threatening to refuse reimbursement for state clean up if residents continued living on their damaged properties.
“Allowing residents to place temporary housing units/RVs/similar housing structures may impact the justification for [private property debris removal by FEMA and] related activities and federal reimbursement, as the FEMA approved justification for the reimbursement of [these] costs is based on State and County’s identified need to ‘eliminate immediate threats to life, public health, and safety,’” wrote Federal Coordinating Officer David Samaniego on January 24th.
In response, Paradise and Butte County quickly rescinded the ordinance, which had been in effect for about two months, in fear of losing $1.7 billion towards the effort.
This poses even more problems for displaced residents. Not only have 130 residents been living in temporary housing on their property, but an estimated 200 have been “dry camping” with bottled water and generators according to The Sacramento Bee. Surrounding housing options are limited, if not unavailable, and many former residents are facing homelessness. Those who have been fortunate to find lodging have been settling on hotels or with friends and family nearby. Residents will be unable to return until after the toxic debris and hazardous materials have been bulldozed.
The statement issued by Samaniego was elaborated upon by FEMA spokesman Ken Higginbotham. “The [Paradise ordinance] was jeopardizing the [FEMA] requirement that residents were in a safe, secure and healthy environment. Certain protocols had to be followed. FEMA approves the debris removal once these requirements are met. We are stewards of federal dollars.”
Congressman Doug La Malfa said his team is currently working with town and county officials and FEMA to protect the health, safety, and funding for the community, especially considering FEMA rarely pays for debris removal programs, let alone such an enormous task.
However, it seems the mix-up came from the fact that Butte County and Paradise officials were told by a team from FEMA that residents living 100 feet from debris was satisfactory during the removal process, prompting the hastily issued ordinance.
“It’s awful,” Paradise Mayor Jones said last Monday. “People took us at our word, and now we are making them move. I feel so badly that we are in this position, but we have no choice.”