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Five years after the Camp Fire, some survivors think they won’t ever be paid

A sign greets motorists entering Paradise on Clark Road.
Andrew Nixon
A sign greets motorists entering Paradise on Clark Road.

Today marks exactly five years since the Camp Fire killed 85 people and burned through Concow, Paradise, Magalia, Butte Creek Canyon and other surrounding areas.

Three years ago, PG&E created the Fire Victim Trust to pay out settlements to fire survivors — but some say they’ve lost hope they’ll ever get their full payments.

Jessica Collinsworth, her daughters and her grandson lost their home in the Camp Fire in 2018. Now, the family lives paycheck to paycheck in a mobile home park in Chico.

The adults have received 45% of their settlement money. But the Trust only told them this year how much Collinsworth’s 8-year-old grandson will get.

When asked if she thought the family would ever be paid 100% of their claim, Collinsworth said, “we won't get it.”

The money they’re getting is barely enough for Collinsworth’s family to survive on, let alone recover from the fire.

Collinsworth’s lawyers, like many attorneys working with the Trust, said they don’t believe these Camp Fire survivors will ever be fully compensated.

“I guess we have to be thankful for the little amounts that we've gotten,” Collinsworth said. “But it doesn't, it's not going to replace anything that we've lost.”

To date, the Trust has already paid out more than $10 billion dollars. But it dispenses settlement money in small payments because it isn’t fully funded.

Any future payments are tied to PG&E’s stock increasing in value. But current trustee of the Fire Victim Trust Cathy Yanni said last week she’s optimistic Camp Fire survivors will one day be made whole.

Yanni said earlier this year that she aims to finish determining all claims by the end of this year, a process she says has slowed payouts. And this year, the Trust made progress on its last outstanding corporate claim.

“When are they going to start putting the campfire survivors first? Because that's something I want to know,” Collinsworth said. She added that the Trust should be doing that now.

Jamie is NSPR’s wildfire reporter and Report For America corps member. She covers all things fire, but her main focus is wildfire recovery in the North State. Before NSPR, Jamie was at UCLA, where she dabbled in college radio and briefly worked as podcast editor at the Daily Bruin.