Labeled "the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history," the Camp Fire which started November 8, 2018 and roared for 18 days, continues to have a huge impact on our community today, in ways we did not anticipate.
We knew to buy up air purifiers and N95 face masks. Hundreds volunteered countless hours at Red Cross, humane, and other shelters to serve those who had lost everything. Many donated bedrooms and travel trailers for use by strangers who had been displaced. There was no lack of compassion or outpouring of selfless giving on the part of our community during this time of dire need.
Vacant rentals within a 50+ mile radius filled up within a week - a few landlords generously even waived deposits or pet restrictions. People were on the phone to realtors, buying houses sight-unseen even as they drove down the hill through walls of flames. Thousands got in their cars and just kept on driving, relocating to other cities and states... or sometimes, countries. Thousands of others camped out in tents, trailers and cars in any open space they could find for weeks, until rains threatened flooding and more shelters were opened.
Church shelters filled up within days, until the outbreak of norovirus and the influx of opportunistic transients infiltrated, causing the most vulnerable - the children and elderly - to feel further traumatized.
It was ironic, if not almost comical, to answer the inevitable, innocent question asked by anyone not familiar with our community: "Were you affected by the Camp Fire?" Even those of us who did not lose a home could not fail to have been affected. At the very least, we each have multiple friends and/or family whose lives were upended as they literally fled for their lives, leaving melting cars in the traffic jam as they ran through blazing walls of fire on both sides.
On a lesser note, one cannot fail to see the impact with crowded grocery stores, restaurants, streets, medical facilities. We have an entire town just 20 minutes up the hill from us who lost hospitals, clinics, restaurants, hotels, convenience stores, gas stations... how can that not fail to impact the rest of us, even if we lost nothing more than the ability to breath clean air for a few weeks?
But to me, the most devastating effect that has impacted us all, is the ability to afford to continue to live in this community that we have called home for decades. As we were nearing retirement, we had already been looking out for affordable housing in the senior mobile home parks that abound. Now, it would seem, opportunistic sellers have disregarded any thought to anything besides feathering their own nests at the expense of not only those who have lost everything, but the rest of us who can no longer afford to remain where we have lived, in our case, for 14 years.
Our District Attorney warned businesses that it is illegal (not to mention immoral) to raise the price on rent or food or cars or gas or building materials more than 10% in the face of a disaster. But selling a house is a different matter. As pointed out recently on social media, a 49-year old, single-wide mobile home in a senior park that had been listed at $18,000 pre-Camp Fire was raised to $55,000 (with no apparent improvements to warrant the price increase) and sold within a week. Likewise, slapping a coat of paint on a 48-year old double-wide in the same senior park is apparently justification for listing at $154,000 what was listed in 2018 for $20,000.
Sadly, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more long-term renters have now been served notice that landlords are selling houses (one must assume to the highest bidder), taking advantage of this window of opportunity where people desperate for a place to live coupled with insurance payouts are forking out double - and sometimes triple - the amount of what a place is worth, further displacing yet more families in their wake.
I'm not sure where it will all end, but I'm not so naïve as to think it will end any time soon. Nor will it end on a happy note. The bubble will burst, there will be a lot of people who have shelled out FAR-above reasonable market value for houses, businesses will not be able to move to (or even continue to operate in) our area because there is no available housing for employees, and the bubble is going to burst with a big splat.
I hope I am wrong - but I don't think I am. And I doubt we will be here to see it anyway, since no one can live on Social security and a meager savings where housing prices have tripled.