Weeks After Containment Of California's Deadly Camp Fire, Survivors Wait For Trailers

Dec 1, 2018
Originally published on December 1, 2018 7:02 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

California's deadly Camp Fire is now contained, but at least 13,000 people in Butte County are without any real housing. The displaced are staying in shelters, hotels, even in tents and parking lots. FEMA is the federal agency with the mandate to provide long-term temporary housing. That often means trailers. Not one trailer has arrived in the area yet.

We're now joined by Ryan Buras. He's Housing Task Force lead for FEMA in California. Mr. Buras, thanks so much for being with us.

RYAN BURAS: I'm glad to be here with you.

SIMON: Why are there no trailers set up, Sir?

BURAS: Well, first off, the unit itself is not the issue here. We have some units already in inventory. We have hundreds - I think a hundred units rolling in right now from Alabama. But we have to ensure that before we place a unit, that there's working infrastructure, the unit goes in a safe location and, more importantly, it's where the housing survivors would like to go - close to their home, close to Paradise, close to school. So this is a long process.

SIMON: Well, and it's been a few weeks. Why isn't anybody staying in a trailer?

BURAS: It has been a few weeks. We do hope to have a couple of people housed here within a week. And we are concerned. We looked at RV parks. We're looking at open site locations that we can potentially build infrastructure to put the units, which includes power, water and sewer. And we'll be able to put housing survivors in those units.

SIMON: Mr. Buras, do you understand the frustration of people who say, look; you know, I'm - I don't have any place to go. I can't live in a parking lot. This is what FEMA does. They're supposed to take care of people who've been displaced. And we ask you, and you talk about site survey teams.

BURAS: Well, first off, I do understand the frustration, very much so, even on a personal level. But we are housing individuals in other ways. We have given out rental assistance. People are renting units as they find them. We even have voluntary agencies that are housing survivors. We have a lot of the private sector helping. This is going to be a united front. This is not going to be just a FEMA solution. In just a transitional housing program, we're housing people right now in the quantities of over 400 people using our TSA programs.

SIMON: I've got to point out, 400 people is a proverbial drop in the bucket to the numbers of people who have no place to stay.

BURAS: I agree. And when you have a community of 13,000 people in a state that, you know, before the events, had very low rental availability prior to the fire, it's just an extremely tough situation. I understand the frustration. We're moving as fast as we can. FEMA has a task - the Housing Task Force with one clear mission, and that's to put people in housing as quick and as possible as we can.

SIMON: But you must know, Mr. Buras, that they're very - I mean, even before the fires, you note yourself there were very few rental properties that were available.

BURAS: That is correct.

SIMON: So why are you still looking for them, I mean, as if they're going to jump out of a magic pumpkin or something?

BURAS: No, I don't think rental units will jump out of a magic pumpkin, but there are a lot of people here that have - that were not affected that are actually calling us and offering resources that we never knew of before the storm. For instance, people are offering up their Airbnbs to house people in the short-term areas. Time is not on our side, right? We have to find solutions quickly. And we work every single day trying to find them.

SIMON: I cannot imagine that anything about that is easy, Mr. Buras. But I must say, it does sound to me as if you're offering a bureaucratic answer for needs that are intensely personal and immediate for people. I mean, do you really just want to say to them - tell them, we're working on this, committees are meeting, it's going to be a team solution, when, really, what they want to hear is, here's a place to stay?

BURAS: And I think, quickly, we're going to be able to share that. Let's just say, for instance, you know, you have a piece of land that you want to use, and we want to build a community. That's going to take more than a day to do so. It's going to take some time. So I'm not giving a bureaucratic answer. What I'm trying to say is the housing shortage in California was high. An entire community lost everything. And we're trying to unfold every possible solution that we can. And that's what we're working towards.

SIMON: It seems to me we do this story a lot, where FEMA is concerned. A natural disaster strikes, and FEMA's late to respond, late to react, late to - makes people wait weeks, and sometimes months, to address the temporary housing issue. Why is that?

BURAS: Well, I can't speak for every event. I can speak for this event. I do not think we're late. We are actively working. I do not believe this was a slow response. It's just the magnitude of this event is going to stress all of us at the county, state and federal level.

SIMON: Ryan Buras is Housing Task Force lead for FEMA in California. Thanks so much for being with us, Sir.

BURAS: Thank you.

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