U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / Flickr wildfires...
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / Flickr

I grew up in Chico, a few miles west of Paradise. I currently live in Southern California but have immediate family still living there, with both of my daughters living in the Bay Area, and I am in constant communication with them as well as many childhood friends, several of whom have lost their homes in the Camp Fire, who are updating me on details of the horrific circumstances.

Donald Trump is set to visit California on Saturday to meet with individuals affected by California fires. While details on the exact time and place have yet to be announced, here is what he is likely to find, should his staff actually allow him out into the toxic soup that is the air in Magalia, Paradise, and Chico.

As of this morning, 631 people are missing, 63 confirmed dead, and 8,756 residences are confirmed destroyed. The reason the number of missing keeps growing is that the fire did not just burn Paradise. The Sierra foothills are filled with small and medium-size communities like Magalia and Pulga, where many thousands of people live, many in isolation, and authorities are only now discovering just how many people have not been accounted for. 

Hundreds of animals confirmed dead and thousands are still missing or being cared for in evacuation shelters. My friend Jim is a supervisor at one such animal shelter for dogs and has been chronicling the many challenges he is facing, including a harrowing tale of trying to extinguish a flare-up just outside their fence with two garden hoses. If a fire truck hadn’t arrived when it did they were faced with having to release the animals to fend for themselves.

Chico is a city of approximately 100,000 people already facing a housing crisis previous to the fire with a less than 1% vacancy rate and pretty much ZERO affordable housing. There are tens of thousands who can’t return to their homes because of environmental toxins. With Paradise and surrounding communities uninhabitable, it seems FEMA has no clear plan to house the thousands of people left homeless by the Camp Fire. With many shelters filled up, a makeshift encampment in a Walmart parking lot has grown from about 300 on Wednesday to an estimated 1,000 people Friday morning. The shelters are reportedly being hit by the norovirus which is contagious and causes vomiting and diarrhea.

The air is toxic — most everyone is wearing N95 masks which need to be replaced every few hours. My daughters both live in the San Francisco Bay area, and the younger, who attends Cal said all classes have been canceled. My older daughter, who works in a research lab at UCSF, said because of the high levels of asbestos and petroleum in the air, everyone is required to wear masks. The AQI in Chico is 350 (hazardous) and in SF it is 213.

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The following quote is from a Facebook post whose author remains anonymous.

It looks like a zombie apocalypse because of the smoke blotting out the sun and haze for days and miles. The sun has been blocked for so long so now it’s getting much colder than it typically is — at night it’s down in the 30s and we have people camping in tents at Walmart. The National Guard is here. FEMA arrived yesterday. FEMA has rented out the old Sears to set up base. I heard someone was renting out Toys R Us so we could convert it to a shelter. We already have struggled to keep people safe and warm over the winter months before the fire, I literally have no idea how we’re going to do it now.

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This photo was taken by my brother in downtown Chico at around noon today.
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A friend sent me these before and after photos of San Francisco, taken from Alcatraz. At first, I thought the bottom half was a grey wall until he pointed out to me that it was actually the “after” photo.

Schools in Chico have been closed all week and next week too, for the holiday break. Paradise High School was saved, but even if the air were safe to breathe, there are no students left in town to attend. It is hard to envision schools opening after the break.

More from our anonymous Facebook poster:

We have friends who drove through flames and only narrowly escaped with their lives. We have many people who jumped out of their cars and RAN down the mountain because that was the better option than sitting and waiting to be engulfed in flames in their cars. What are we going to do with everyone and everything displaced? Chico literally cannot absorb everyone. How can we heal from this massive, wide-scale trauma? I have literally no ability to imagine normalcy. Everyone is talking about “rebuilding” and being “Butte Strong” but as a public health professional who has traveled extensively around the developing world I just can’t see it happening. I know we’ll continue to move forward because that’s how time and life works, but I can’t imagine recovery. It’s too much. We have the nation’s attention right now, but how long will that last? Not long enough I already know. The rest of the world is marching on and we are stuck in this horror show.

And so this is what our feckless president will be seeing tomorrow. Maybe this will wake him up to the human suffering being caused by a warming planet and how our dependence on fossil fuels is killing us. Maybe he will feel some kind of responsibility for the world our generation is handing down to our children, and their children. But of course, he won’t. Puerto Rico didn’t convince him. Our hearts are breaking, but his will not. He has no heart.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

1 COMMENT

  1. I can’t understand why the impostor president is going unless he wants some photo ops as he pretends to care. He doesn’t have the capacity to understand the depth of suffering in the communities impacted by this horrific disaster. So many elderly unable to escape. People abandoning their vehicles to flee into the countryside. I can’t even imagine the horror so many endured as they were overtaken & the unimaginable pain of families awaiting reports of remains being located. Maybe Melania can wear that snazzy jacket again to express her feelings as she pretends to be the first lady. He’s so stupid he’ll probably take newspapers & a Bic to throw at people.

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