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As Paradise extends RV ordinance, some Camp Fire survivors are just starting to transition out of homelessness

Tanya Jenkins survived the 2018 Camp Fire and has struggled with homelessness since. She's currently hoping to raise $2,000 for a trailer of her own and move back to her property in Paradise. Photo taken in South Oroville, Calif. on Jan. 20, 2024.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
Tanya Jenkins survived the 2018 Camp Fire and has struggled with homelessness since. She's currently hoping to raise $2,000 for a trailer of her own and move back to her property in Paradise. Photo taken in South Oroville, Calif. on Jan. 20, 2024.

When Tanya Jenkins looked back at her burning home as she drove away from the 2018 Camp Fire, she knew there would be nothing left. Fire rained from the sky. The steering wheel grew so hot it melted, scalding her hands. Later, she had to explain to her distraught young grandson what it meant to lose the four-bedroom, two-bath house they’d called home for nearly 10 years.

That was more than five years ago. And Jenkins still does not have a home of her own.

She stays with relatives in Chico and Oroville when she can. She’s also slept in her car in local Goodwill and Walmart parking lots.

But now, Jenkins finally feels like she’s made progress in her recovery. A friend is offering to sell her a trailer at a good price. She’ll be able to live in it after years of not having a place of her own. And, more importantly, her son and his family have moved back to the area.

Tanya Jenkins has struggled with homelessness since the 2018 Camp Fire. She stays with her family in Oroville and Chico when she can. Photo taken in South Oroville, Calif. on Jan. 20, 2024.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
Tanya Jenkins has struggled with homelessness since the 2018 Camp Fire. She stays with her family in Oroville and Chico when she can. Photo taken in South Oroville, Calif. on Jan. 20, 2024.

“Everything's much better,” she said. “And yeah, I don't have a house yet. But … this gives me hope.”

The plan is for Jenkins, her son, and his family to move back to their property in Paradise and live in trailers for a while before rebuilding.

For many survivors, trailers are the only affordable temporary housing in the area.

Kate Scowsmith, disaster case management systems facilitator at the Camp Fire Collaborative, said many survivors can’t afford to rebuild.

“The rebuild process is really long and overwhelming and full of ups and downs. And it takes a lot of time,” she told NSPR in September. “And sometimes it's more time than what the urgency ordinance is allowing.”

With its most recent extension of the urgency ordinance, the Paradise Town Council is giving people living in trailers until April 2025 — one more year on the previous deadline of April this year — to start rebuilding or leave. Staffers who recommended the vote say the extra time will help more survivors transition into permanent housing. That could be a mobile home on a foundation, or continuing to live in a trailer but with a building permit in hand.

Tanya Jenkins still struggles with trauma from the 2018 Camp Fire. She says it took her two years to find the strength to visit Paradise again. Photo taken in South Oroville, Calif. on Jan. 20, 2024.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
Tanya Jenkins still struggles with trauma from the 2018 Camp Fire. She says it took her two years to find the strength to visit Paradise again. Photo taken in South Oroville, Calif. on Jan. 20, 2024.

Although it’s been extended four times, that deadline still makes Jenkins nervous.

“What if I can't get the permit? Or, you know, we get the permit and we don’t have enough time to do what we need to do?”

Jenkins says she can understand why an urgency ordinance and a deadline are necessary and she appreciates local government. For example, she’s grateful zoning laws stopped squatters from camping on her land these past few years.

But Jenkins says she’s hung onto her property for a reason: she wants her children and grandchildren with her again in one house in Paradise. Under the extended ordinance, she hopes she can make that happen before time runs out.

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.
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