Feb. 19—From getting a replacement driver's license to finding a new place to live, many survivors of the Almeda and South Obenchain fires said they're exhausted by the many hurdles they're facing to rebuild their lives.
They told their stories via videoconference and phone this week to members of the
The government-funded cleanup has begun, but swathes of
"We live in a battlefield, and it's a battle just to get help," said
Halbert has been caught in a Catch-22 situation as she struggles to replace her driver's license,
Halbert said it took months just to get an appointment with the
Fire survivors faced a roadblock just trying to testify at the virtual public hearing this week. The state sent out the wrong connection information for people who registered to speak to legislators.
With very few available rentals and high housing prices even before the fires, Halbert hasn't been able to find new permanent housing for herself and her mom. They are renting two bedrooms in someone else's home.
She said prices for used mobile homes are skyrocketing.
"Anything that comes up for sale has tripled in price," Halbert said.
She said she and her mother can't afford to take out a mortgage for a mobile home, plus pay the
Like many who testified,
Williams said he had nothing but the shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops he was wearing. Even a half-hour warning would have allowed him to grab more things, like wedding and baby photos.
With help from his daughter,
"I still wake up at night sweating, having nightmares, terrors about being trapped in a house and burning alive. It's hard to get past," Williams said.
When Gomez has to drive past the charred rubble in
Gomez said fire survivors aren't asking for new dream homes. They just want a decent place to stay, but rent prices are out of reach.
"Is there going to be somewhere where we'll be able to live? I know where we used to live, it wasn't a dream home, but to us it was a beautiful castle," Gomez said of her mobile home.
But she said 35 of the 70 residents of the park where she lived won't be able to move back into the park even after it's cleaned up. Kali said the owner is requiring people to buy new mobile homes in order to come back.
"I was just on the phone today with a resident who was crying because the insurance money she got will not enable her to buy a new home. And she's devastated," Kali said.
Kali said she would like the
During the hearing, she and others called for an improvement to the emergency alert system. She said sirens could do a better job of warning people to evacuate.
"If this had happened at night we would have had major loss of life," Kali said.
Rogue Climate, a local organization concerned about climate change, has been helping fire survivors. The group's executive director,
"For example, one essential worker in our community received
Sohl called on the state to help fund affordable replacement housing.
Krause said he was fortunate to have insurance coverage for his
"Our days are spent trying to keep our kids occupied and receiving school during the COVID pandemic," Krause said. "We're working away on our insurance claim. I spent hours on it still today and will be doing so for the foreseeable future. Housing is hard to find. Life is different, and the trauma of losing our home often leaves us tired, anxious and depressed. It's sad that our experience is shared by so many."
Dawn's home, outbuildings and trees were all lost to the South Obenchain fire in northern
"Everything from a lifetime is gone. I never thought that at 54-years-old I would be homeless," Dawn said.
With the government-funded cleanup focused on mobile home parks in the Almeda fire area for now, Dawn said people who lost homes to the South Obenchain fire feel overlooked. Many have decided to clean up their property themselves.
Dawn said she had good homeowner's insurance and bought a mobile home. She wants to rebuild her house, but for now is living temporarily at the
"Our biggest holdup right now in starting the process of rebuilding is debris removal. We need that done sooner than later. I know they're working on it, but it can't happen soon enough because the longer we have to sit here and wait, the more money it's costing us — and the longer we're having to sit here taking up a spot that someone else could be using," she said.
Dawn said her insurance isn't covering the full cost of rebuilding, so she's wading through red tape to apply for a
"It's obvious I didn't have a home," she said.
"We need to give our firefighters a fighting chance to protect our communities,"
Barry said multiple families are crammed into single homes, with others living in RVs, hotels or cars. They've scattered far and wide to find help wherever they can.
"There is no question that having a place to call home remains the biggest need for recovery — and there's no easy solution for housing," he said, noting the
Barry asked the state to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for vulnerable fire survivors and to continue financially supporting the district as it works to help students, even though its enrollment is down.
Flores said the fire and its aftermath made it hard for him to focus on applying for college and scholarships.
"I felt very depressed, very unmotivated, very sad. There was a point where I wanted to drop out of school and get a job just so I could provide for my family. Luckily, it didn't get to that point," he said.
Flores said families need help to get back on their feet.
"We need cleanup and reconstruction — quick," he said.
The Almeda fire destroyed the homes of many Latino families.
He urged legislators to continue providing financial support for
Like many who testified,
Ann asked that planning and permit fees be waived for the rebuilding of homes, especially if homeowners are using the same plans. She also wants to see the planning process streamlined. All 47 homes in the
"In two weeks I've got to find another place," she said.
The state of
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