California Wildfires: FEMA focuses on housing survivors as they prepare to spend Christmas holidays in shelters
FEMA spokesman Michael Hart told Meaww that federal and state agencies are working hand-in-hand to get affected families back on their feet
Although rains forecasted over the next few days would help firefighters battling to contain the devastating Camp Fire, there are fears of mudslides which could further complicate recovery efforts. The total death toll has now reached 84, according to a statement by the Butte County Sheriff's Office at a press conference on Thursday.
While the amount of missing people on record has decreased to 563, officials are still struggling to make direct contact with missing persons — a process mandatory for survivors to be checked off the list.
Officials are expecting people to be in shelters through the Christmas holidays after Camp Fire entirely decimated Paradise, a small town with a population of 27,000.
Cal Fire Operations Chief Josh Bischoff revealed that the wildfire has destroyed over 14,000 homes. "This is certainly one of the worst fires in California history, and it's the most destruction I've ever seen in my career," he said.
According to Cal Fire, the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles County was contained 100 percent by Wednesday night, while the Camp Fire containment had reached 95 percent as of Thursday.
Here are the current numbers pertaining to the wildfires as released by Cal Fire and the Los Angeles County Fire Department:
Location: Butte County
153,336 acres burned
95 percent contained
84 fatalities confirmed
563 unaccounted for
18,886 structures destroyed (14,243 residences, 514 commercial and 4,129 other buildings)
Location: Los Angeles County, Ventura County
96,949 acres burned
100 percent contained
3 fatalities confirmed
1,643 structures destroyed, 364 damaged
Officials are trying to figure out where to deploy the 80 trailers that are stationed at the site of what used to be McClellan Air Force Base in Northern California. Frank Mansell, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said that it will likely take weeks for the trailers to be placed for use.
Ideally, the trailers would be placed on the site of people's destroyed homes but the agency is looking for a larger site such as a fairground. Officials are currently assessing whether the proposed sites have appropriate electricity, sewer or septic, and other infrastructure in order to facilitate the trailers.
FEMA is also working to find sustainable lodgings for those affected by the fires. In most disasters, Mansell said, only about 10 percent of victims use shelters run by FEMA. That said, the agency can get as many mobile units as required.
Speaking to Meaww, FEMA spokesman Michael Hart said that, as of Thursday, the agency had successfully registered 17,000 families between the three counties and had already secured $13 million in grants.
"One of our main focuses is the housing situation," Hart said. "We're making sure that we work with everybody and figure out the best option for them. We're working along with other government and nonprofit organizations to help everybody who's impacted by the fire and to figure out the best means of getting them some recovery."
"There are numerous options, including emergency shelters that are available," he continued. "We are helping survivors figure out if they're eligible for the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program in Butte County, Critical Needs Assistance, as well as Rental Assistance. We have numerous agents standing by to help survivors get registered. So there's a number of items that we're looking at for the housing situation."
Hart said that it is going to be a while before affected families can get back to their normal lives.
"There are no homes to go back to in some of these cities," he said. "Anytime you have a disaster of such historic proportions, it's going to take a while to get the people back on their feet. FEMA is working hand-in-hand with federal partners, state local agencies, as well as volunteer organizations in a joint effort to get those affected back to normalcy."
When it comes to air quality, over 20 cities in California have been listed under the "unhealthy" index owing to the fires, as of Monday. Authorities have advised residents to avoid exercising outdoors and stay inside as much as possible.
Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric is facing a lawsuit jointly by several people over Camp Fire. Around the time and place the destructive blaze started, the utility suffered two power failures after forecast conditions did not meet its criteria for a public safety shutdown of electricity.
Such prerequisite conditions include sustained winds stronger than 25 mph and low humidity levels around 20 percent. Nonetheless, the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
FEMA is encouraging affected people to contact them on 800.621.3362 for assistance or get in touch with via www.disasterassistance.gov.