With rain falling and temperatures dropping, Walmart is encouraging people to leave the temporary encampment that sprung up in one of its parking lots as the Camp Fire burned through northern California.
“The weather forecast from the National Weather Service showing steady rain continuing through Friday has heightened our existing concerns and increased the urgency to find a more sustainable solution,” company spokeswoman Delia Garcia said.
The Walmart parking lot in Chico became an immediate refuge for Butte County residents fleeing the deadly blaze. Located about 10 minutes down the hill from the town of Paradise, which bore the brunt of the Camp Fire’s wrath, it was a familiar place to settle for evacuees with no other options.
What began as a temporary shelter turned into a makeshift village. Volunteers distributed supplies such as smoke masks, dog food, clothes and other essentials. As time wore on, both the City of Chico and Walmart began encouraging people to leave.
They posted signs with information about shelters and offered free bus rides to those locations, along with gas gift cards, money and food.
“Walmart was one of the generous community partners that offered a site for respite and relief. Courageous and compassionate community volunteers came together and built an immediate safe place for many evacuees,” the city said in a statement.
However, it echoed concerns over the location as a long-term camping location, “primarily due to the rain and temperature changes as well as the lack of services available to help evacuees,” the city said.
“The City of Chico is committed to providing safe places for all residents in our community. We believe the infants, children and adults staying in tents on Walmart property deserve better. While we do not think the Walmart location is a safe or sustainable place for individuals to reside, we understand Walmart is working on viable solutions regarding this situation and we look forward to hearing their plans in the coming days.”
Authorities began raising concerns last week that the onset of heavy rain could cause unsafe conditions. With more than 151,000 acres of newly scorched earth, heavy rain expected this week could lead to flooding and mudslides.
Almost 1 million people are under flash flood watch in the region, where 4 to 6 inches of rain is expected to fall through Friday. Rain began in Paradise about 11 a.m. Wednesday, dropping nearly a half inch within a few hours. A break was expected before it resumes by evening.
Walmart’s tent city was not designed for long-term housing — it has no running water for basic facilities such as toilets or showers. And now, more shelters and housing options are available than in the early days of the wildfire.
“We continue to be concerned about the health, safety and well-being of the individuals remaining on our property and have been working cooperatively with city, county and state officials and local non-profits to increase capacity at local shelters and help create good temporary housing options,” Garcia said.