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Research shows there are now Camp Fire survivors living in all 50 states

Two California State University, Chico researchers are continuing their analysis of the aftermath of the 2018 Camp Fire and the future of Paradise.

Professor Jacquelyn Chase and GIS Specialist Peter Hansen updated their data in an article published last fall, that show where Camp Fire survivors are now living.

The team added 1,200 addresses to their database of where survivors have relocated. Their data now include 14,250 addresses through Sept. 2021.

NSPR's Angel Huracha spoke with Chase and Hansen about what they’ve learned studying the town over the last three years.

On where Paradise residents moved to after the Camp Fire

Hansen: The locations that we're documenting are not comprehensive of everybody that was displaced. We're estimating that it's maybe 40% or a third of the estimated people that were there. I think it [the difficulty estimating location] is due to a couple of things.

People are moving all the time. I think that this mail marketing group did a good job of getting this comprehensive and complete picture of who is in a place at a certain time. Their scope is nationwide, if not international. The bigger part of it is the difference between a temporary change of address and a permanent change of address. Our assumption is that a lot of people, at least in the immediate, were using the temporary change of address, and for whatever privacy reason, people don't publish access to that.

We had a bunch of permanent changes of addresses where people went to. Chico, Oroville, Durham, Magalia, Red Bluff, Yuba City Redding, Corning, Roseville, it really radiated out from the region.

You don't get down out of the state until you get down to Reno in 20th place. Then the next one you see is Medford, Oregon in 29th place, and then Sparks, Nevada after that. Out of the top 40 [places], 36 of them or so are in California. It's primarily the west coast. A decent amount in Idaho.

There are [now] people in all 50 states. There's certainly some kind of bizarre clusters that we see: in Tennessee, a lot [of people], and Idaho.

Based on the 2019 research, there are 1,018 individual cities that people traveled to or moved to. That's a lot of unique cities. 11,000, in California, almost 500 in Oregon, a couple hundred in Nevada, a couple hundred in Arizona, almost 200 in Idaho, 150 in Washington, 100 in Texas, Utah, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee. Those all have at least 50 [people] or more.

"As fires become more comprehensive like this one was, wiping out an entire, more than one, community and really having to figure out what to do with the entire population. That's something that I think people need to be more aware of, and willing to look at more comprehensively."
- Jacquelyn Chase

Chase: I don't think it's untypical for any disaster to see the clustering locally, it's just kind of a common thing for people to go as close as they need to go in order to get the services they are looking for. It might be related to the family. It's so common [that] people go local first. The types of people that ended up in Chico may bifurcate along with social class lines because it was very hard to get housing right away, the market blew up and it was very expensive and there was a shortage.

Renters were getting displaced, even renters who had lived [in Chico] a long time. It was very hard for people that didn't have resources. At the same time, for people who had no resources, it was a place where those social resources existed, and a collective response to the fire was concentrated.

You're really going to notice it more locally, than maybe in communities in Tennessee. That community in Tennessee is not going to necessarily say, ‘Wow, you know, we're experiencing this tightening of the housing market, because of these people … ’ But locally, that is definitely a phenomenon that needs to be included in more of this type of research. As fires become more comprehensive like this one was, wiping out an entire, more than one, community and really having to figure out what to do with the entire population. That's something that I think people need to be more aware of, and willing to look at more comprehensively.

On significant changes in Paradise over the last three years

Hansen: Certainly the landscape. All of the hazardous tree mitigation that tends to happen. The clearing of the lots, the look and feel of the town is certainly different. It used to be such a place that had these big towering pines, and now you've got these views that you can see long distances.

Chase: There is, I think, an emphasis that has kind of taken center stage on rebuilding quickly and promoting the economic viability of Paradise, at almost the expense of perhaps thinking about how Paradise might be affected in the future by other fires and how you might look at land use as a way to mitigate the impact of fires.

Right now you have a fairly low-density community, which would probably, if a fire were to come through there again…I hate to say it like this, but might be sort of an ideal setting for people to be able to defend themselves from the fire. People want to push back to where they were, as that more densely populated town.

I can understand that, because it's a community and the leaders of that community are looking forward to a time where the population base becomes more like it was in the past. In terms of a complete revision of where the city limits would be and where regrowth should be avoided, that has not taken place. That's almost off the agenda. It's weird because academic researchers and even government researchers … there's a lot of interest in forestry and fire. They all advocate for rethinking the footprint of places that have burned.

I really expected to see more discussion and creative thinking about what the communities would look like.

On what’s most surprising about how the town of Paradise is shifting

Hansen: The takeaway is that it seems like those that were going to rebuild might have already started to do that. And that the more recently submitted permit applications are not from survivors necessarily. They're new owners. I don't know if they're new to the area, if they're transplants from Chico, if they're transplants from other areas … but from what we can tell, the point persons now are not necessarily survivors.

So what the town's composition will be, that will probably be changed. As far as the types of structures that are being built, from what we can tell … from what's been sold and from what some of the values that have been put on those are, it's not necessarily indicative of the price of homes before the fire.

Paradise isn't in a bubble in that regard, everywhere has kind of seen the climb in the real estate market. I don't know how much we can attribute that to the fire. But the fact remains that in a place that was typically more relatively affordable, that might be changing a bit.

Chase: I compared some of the data that Peter’s discussed; home rebuilds with census data from before the fire. You're seeing a decline in the percentage of very small homes that might have been the kind of home appropriate to an older population. That too is regardless of the price of the homes, just the kind of different kinds of homes being offered. Not only the mobile homes and multi-family homes, but also the size of single-family homes seems to be getting less. You could say less varied in the offerings.

Angel Huracha has been a part of the journalism field since 2006 and has covered a range of topics. He is a graduate of Chico State with a Bachelor's degree in news-editorial and public relations with a minor in English.