Campfire Survivor finds permanent housing with Habitat after nearly 2 years in a FEMA trailer

Let us introduce you to Mary! Mary is one of thousands that have been displaced due to the 2018 Camp Fire. At the time of the Fire Mary was living in Paradise off Piney Ridge with her husband while her daughter was just up the street at Maple Park.

Mary and her husband had lived on the same property for 14 years in a home they loved and planned on living out their lives in, but they were not the owners. Due to the fact they were renting they did not receive a huge settlement, though they did get some money. The monies received could was used to stay in hotels as there was no affordable housing to rent based not only on their income, but also that nearly all housing had been destroyed during the fires.

On November 8th, 2018 Mary was at her daughter’s house to watch her younger grandchild by 7am. Her daughter dropped her older son off at school and by the time she got back home the sky was black and panic sank in for them both. Her daughter ran back to the school to get her son while Mary went home to get her husband. Both Mary and her husband suffer from COPD and only had time to grab her cat and their oxygen tanks.

Like so many, they were stuck in a long line of cars trying to reach safety from the fire that surrounded them. They followed a bulldozer clearing a path on the burning ground as embers fell from the sky in constant communication with her daughter. Fear was everywhere. Heat filled the car and smoke found its way through the closed vents. Both she and her husband were sweating from the heat while struggling to breathe when they both realized the oxygen tanks meant to save them just may succumb to the rising temperatures in the car.

Mary had lost service while on the phone with her daughter and that is when things went from dreadful to a parent’s worst nightmare. Her daughter was driving by herself with her two children and their dogs. The last thing Mary heard when reception cut was her daughter crying, “Mom, the tail lights on the car in front of me are melting!”

They slowly crept down the hill towards Chico no longer worried about the Oxygen tanks or themselves. “My daughter. My Grandkids. I didn’t even want to make it to safety if they didn’t. We all had experiences that shook us. We didn’t get to Chico until 8:30pm. I think it was 10am the last time I talked to my girl and heard her and the kids. A long time to have to think about if she made it to safety, even IF we were in safety ourselves. But we weren’t. None of us were. Then we were safe and that was all that mattered until we realized we had nowhere to go but a WalMart Parking lot. But, we were alive.”

After staying in hotels for about 6 months Mary and her husband moved into a FEMA trailer. They held a voucher for affordable housing but there was (and is) no housing available to use it. One year after the Camp Fire Mary sadly lost her husband Dan. She feared that she would never leave the FEMA trailer and then faced yet another evacuation during the Northern Complex Fires, this time without her husband to support and comfort her. Her experience in 2020 paled in comparison to the 2018 Camp Fire but it certainly ignited that fearful day for her and many others.

 Her daughter moved to Yuba County and the two have been trying to find a way to get her mom into the area as well. Mary has the goal of owning a home with her daughter and as they work on qualifying she is currently at Harmony Village waiting for Oak Haven to complete construction late this year. Mary may very well be our very first Partner Family to make the progression from Harmony Village, (permanent housing with supportive services), to Oak Haven (Low-income duplex permanent housing) and just may they will be a Habitat Homeowner!

Whatever the future holds we are happy to have Mary as a Partner Family at Harmony where she said she feels so happy. She loves the greenery and spending time with other tenants. Though she is grateful to have been sheltered by FEMA for so long she stated that it is good to feel like she at home in a community that she enjoys.

Welcome Home, Mary!

Habitat for Humanity Yuba-Sutter