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California Wildfires Have Created Climate Refugees in a Walmart Parking Lot

California's Camp Fire has destroyed about 9,000 homes, creating climate refugees inside the state.

by Caroline Haskins
Nov 15 2018, 6:13pm

At least 59 people have died as a result of the fires in northern and southern California, making it the deadliest wildfire outbreak in the state’s history. The Camp Fire—named after Camp Creek Road, the origin of the fire—was the deadlier of the two fires, which killed 56 people and destroyed over 9,000 homes. The fire has also created what the Sacramento Bee described as a "de facto refugee camp."

A Walmart parking lot in Chico, CA, has become a city of more than 50 tents and about a dozen cars and RVs, according to the Bee. The Walmart is just outside of Paradise, CA, which was almost completely destroyed by the Camp Fire. Approximately 52,000 people were forced to evacuate from the Paradise, CA and the surrounding towns as a result of the Camp Fire. Almost 230,000 people live in Butte County, which is home to Paradise.

The tents could be a short or long-term living circumstance for displaced persons. Brock Long, an administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said that towns destroyed by T=the Camp Fire will need to choose which schools, hospitals, and homes should be rebuilt.

“We’ll be here for several years working this disaster,” said Long. “You’re not going to be able to rebuild Paradise the way it was.”

Residents of Paradise have a median age of 50 and median income of $48,000, which is 14 years older and $16,000 less than the statewide average, according to the Bee. In essence, these residents may not be able to quickly recover financially.

The AP reported that evacuees in the camp experienced a norovirus outbreak this week, which also affected makeshift medical clinic in Neighborhood Church in Chico, CA.

“Climate refugees”—a term which refers to people displaced by extreme weather, wildfires, water scarcity, and other climate change-related catastrophes—exists in the present tense. It applies to people that have been displaced from Hurricane Michael, Hurricane Harvey, and Hurricane Katrina. It affects regions in East Africa that are experiencing increased water scarcity—a condition exacerbated by climate change.

The World Bank Group has estimated that climate change will force 140 million people to migrate between now and 2050, including 17 million people in Latin America and 4 million people in Mexico and Central America. This migration has already started.