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Thousands Of Fire Evacuees To Spend The Holiday Without Homes

Nov 21, 2018
Originally published on November 21, 2018 5:23 am

Evacuee Roxanne Peters had planned to prepare food tomorrow, for Thanksgiving dinner.

"I was celebrating at two different houses. We were invited to two different places, and I was cooking, you know, potluck," she said.

Both those homes burned to the ground in the historic Camp Fire. The scale of the fire's destruction is so spread out that very little of the towns of Paradise, Magalia and Concow remain. So far, the fire scorched 230 square miles — an area the size of Chicago.

"I'll be giving thanks this year that we made it out alive," Peters says.

So many evacuees have fled to nearby Chico, prompting local businesses to try and give them a place to exhale.

"When you see them come in they have ash on their clothes. Or their face has soot on it. Because you don't know what they were doing," says Breanna Fischer, manager the Buffalo Wild Wings near the disaster recovery center. It's brought a stream of customers with different stories of survival.

The restaurant is usually closed on Thanksgiving Day. But tomorrow, she and the other managers decided not just to stay open, but to host a free feast for hundreds of fire survivors.

"It's all on us. This is a family event, basically," Fischer said.

Inside the giant walk-in freezers in the back, forty giant turkeys are lined up, waiting to be deep-fried in the kitchen's seven fryers.

"We're gonna test one tonight, see how long it's gonna take to cook, and that's what it's gonna be," Fisher says.

The restaurant can seat 240 in all — and it's accepting reservations until the place reaches capacity. Elsewhere in town, the non-profit group World Central Kitchen, founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres — is teaming up with the town of Paradise, Chico State University and the Sierra Nevada beer brewery, headquarted in Chico, to make 15,000 Thanksgiving meals tomorrow.

"It's definitely a huge undertaking," says Elaine Kramer, an associate dining director at Chico State, which is turning over two of its dining halls to any evacuees who show up.

"I hope it...makes somebody feel better, even if it's just for a very short amount of time," Kramer says.

Volunteers from the community will help with serving the food — the volunteer sign up filled up within hours. At Buffalo Wild Wings, all the staff will also work for free. Manager Breanna Fischer says their focus is giving fire victims some semblance of normal holiday.

"Where are they supposed to go? They don't really have a home, so... It's kinda like, like, our responsibility to do it," she says.

So many are temporarily homeless. But tomorrow they won't be hungry.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Many people in Northern California are away from home this holiday week because their homes were destroyed by the Camp Fire. NPR's Elise Hu reports on how some are spending Thanksgiving.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Roxanne Peters (ph) currently lives out of her pickup truck after her home went up in flames. She was supposed to be preparing dinner tomorrow and enjoying it with her friends.

ROXANNE PETERS: I was celebrating at two different houses. (Laughter). You know? We were invited at two different places, and then I was cooking to bring, like, potluck. You know?

HU: And where are those houses now?

PETERS: They're burned, both of them.

HU: The scale of the fire's destruction is so spread out that very little of the towns of Paradise, Magalia and Concow remain. The fire scorched 230 square miles so far, an area the size of Chicago.

PETERS: Well, I'll be giving thanks this year that we made it out alive.

HU: So many evacuees have fled to nearby Chico, prompting local businesses to try and give them a place to exhale. Breanna Fischer (ph) manages the Buffalo Wild Wings near the disaster recovery center.

BREANNA FISCHER: When you see them come in, they have ash on their clothes or their face has soot on it because they - you don't know what they were doing.

HU: She says customers have streamed in with so many different stories of survival.

FISCHER: You're, like, heartbroken. Like, you can hear my voice. It's, like - makes you sad.

HU: The restaurant is usually closed on Thanksgiving Day, but tomorrow, she and the other managers decided not just to stay open but to host a free feast for hundreds of fire survivors.

FISCHER: It's all on us. This is a family event, basically.

HU: Inside the giant walk-in freezers in the back, 40 giant turkeys are lined up waiting to be deep fried.

FISCHER: We're going to test one tonight. See how long it's going to take to cook, and that's what it's going to be.

HU: Have you ever fried 40 turkeys at once?

FISCHER: No way. I've done one. It was crazy.

HU: The restaurant can seat 240 in all, and it's accepting reservations until the place reaches capacity. Elsewhere in town, the nonprofit group World Central Kitchen, founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres, is teaming with the town of Paradise, Chico State University and the Sierra Nevada Beer brewery, which is headquartered here, to make 15,000 Thanksgiving meals tomorrow.

ELAINE KRAMER: Yes. It's definitely a huge undertaking.

HU: Elaine Kramer is associate dining director at Chico State, which is turning over two of its dining halls to any evacuees who show up.

KRAMER: Maybe just to make somebody feel better, even if it's for a very short amount of time.

HU: Volunteers from the community will help with serving the food. And the volunteer sign-up filled up within hours. At Buffalo Wild Wings, all the staff will also work for free. Manager Breanna Fischer says their focus is giving fire victims some semblance of a normal holiday.

FISCHER: Where are they supposed to go? They don't really have a home so it's kind of, like, our responsibility to do it.

HU: So many are temporarily homeless, but tomorrow, they won't be hungry. Elise Hu, NPR News, Chico, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.