California Residents Return to Homes After Fire Evacuation: It’s Like ‘Camping at Home’

by Jennifer Shea

Survivors of at least one California wildfire have managed to make their way home, but the conditions they’re returning to are challenging at best.

The North Complex fire has left residents of Butte County, California without power, water or garbage collection services, KRCR-TV reported. The fire is now 95% contained after burning 318,930 acres.

Felled trees litter the roads. Strong winds disperse fire ash through the air every day. And gas bills are through the roof – with the electricity out, many families are using generators. 

“We’ve gone through fires, but not like this,” Berry Creek resident Kathleen Gough told KRCR-TV.

Gough finally made it home after evacuating 47 days ago. She and her dog Daisy were lucky to return to an undamaged house, which Gough’s late husband built. 

“So much of this home my husband built and since he passed away it’s like, you can’t grab a whole house [when you evacuate],” Gough told KRCR-TV. “To come home and deal with ashes and soot, it’s worth it.”

But it’s not easy living in the area torched by the fire. Residents have to bring their own garbage to the dump. And many returned home to refrigerators and freezers full of decomposing food.

Still, crews from the Butte County and California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) are busy working with asbestos consultants and hazmat crews to clean up dangerous waste in the area. And the California Conservation Corps is adding erosion control to properties hit by the fire.

Meanwhile, residents who chose to return are basically having to rough it.

“It’s been 48 days without power and we have had a little bit of a gravity drip system on our water tank but it takes almost all night to drop in enough water to bail it out so we can flush the toilet,” local resident Rhonda Dyer told KRCR-TV. “It’s hard to be up here on a generator and it’s hard to haul up water. Just consider all of that before you consider coming back.”