Weary Californians seek shelter amid latest wildfire outbreak
SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Built in 1950, this Sonoma County town’s squat blue-gray Veterans Memorial Auditorium has hosted everything from rock concerts to flea markets.
But lately, it has reprised its role as a gathering place for fire evacuees. Nearly 3,000 people now call this cavernous 45,000-square-foot building home, escapees from the nearby Kincade Fire that has burned 76,000 acres, destroyed 189 buildings and forced 200,000 to leave their homes.
Most of these fire refugees arrive with little more than nothing, but they pack the same emotional baggage.
Fear. Frustration. Anger. But also gratitude, compassion and even humor.
“It’s very hard psychologically,” says Daisy Carreno, taking a break from handing out donated coffee to fire victims. “In the meantime, it makes me feel good to help people. Because I know what they’re going through.”
Carreno’s story is achingly familiar to many residents. In 2017, the Tubbs Fire tore through this town, killing 22 and wiping out entire neighborhoods like Coffey Park, where Carreno lived with her husband and kids.
While she and her family made due in a FEMA trailer for more than a year, the 2018 Camp Fire destroyed Paradise, killing 85 people and decimating 13,000 buildings. Her daughter, who lived near Paradise in Chico, evacuated but was safe.
“And now, we have this,” Carreno says with a shrug. In April, Carreno finally moved out of the FEMA trailer and into a home in Windsor, near Santa Rosa. On Saturday, she and her family were told to leave by officials.
“We are living at a friend’s house, about 20 of us in all,” she says, laughing. “It’s crazy, we joke that it could be a reality show. But we do what we can. Where can you go? It seems every place has something. Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods. So we stay, hope for the best, and try to help.”