Paradise: The Volunteers By lily baldwin and meera srinivasan

As the Camp Fire roared through Paradise and the surrounding towns, homeowners and residents fled to safety, finding refuge in the makeshift fire shelters set up throughout Butte County. Chico’s Walmart parking lot quickly became littered with tents and travel stoves as families set up camp and sorted through their living situations.

Gathered in a Walmart parking lot in Chico, volunteers and displaced residents (right) work to organize donated goods. The community has acquired a surplus of used clothing (left), but is still in need of monetary donations. (photos by Lily Baldwin)

American Canyon resident and volunteer Maria Quirarte, known to her loved ones as Mimi, drove up to Chico after the fire threatened to take her grandmother’s home.

“When the fires happen, you immediately come to your family’s aide,” Quirarte said. “We don’t know what the outcome is of [my grandmother’s] house, we still don’t know if it’s up or down, so at this point, she’s just going to have to survive until it’s time to go back and check the location.”

Quirarte has helped others search for their family members in the days following the fire, including helping her longtime friend who was looking for her missing mother.

“My best friend, Tammie, since second grade, [has] been looking for her mother,” Quirarte said. “She drove all the way here from Ohio and now goes shelter to shelter in search of her.”

According to Quirarte, from printing out flyers to creating a Facebook page, Tamara (Tammie) Konicki has worked tirelessly to find her mother and obtain any peace of mind. Konicki recently found her mother’s remains after an extensive search through her Paradise residence.

A list of community resources is posted to a board for displaced residents to access aid such as mental health services, medical information and shelter. (Photo by Lily Baldwin)

With thousands still missing, volunteers from throughout the nation have traveled to rescue centers with hopes of aiding families in need. World Central Kitchen, an organization based out of Washington, D.C., works to provide hot meals for areas in crisis. In the past, they have assisted by serving free meals in areas affected by natural disasters, such as the earthquakes that devastated Haiti and during Hurricane Florence when it swept across the Southeast. According to Matt Lemasters, a volunteer with World Central Kitchen, the organization arrived just two days after the outbreak of the fire and served a peak amount of 10,000 evacuees from Paradise in a single day by utilizing local restaurants and vendors.

“We bridge the gap from disaster to when [recovery] can happen,” Lemasters said. “We use local volunteers, and the turn out here has been excellent. It’s better than any place I’ve seen, [and] the community here is awesome. We can’t do it without the volunteers, we really can’t.”

Lemasters appreciates the efforts of the community as relief efforts have grown. While World Central Kitchen enjoys helping those left displaced by providing free meals, Lemasters is optimistic that those impacted by the disaster will recover.

“The community here that’s come together to help us, it’s beautiful, it really is. That just shows how Chico and Paradise really just united,” Lemasters said. “We have to move on, but it’s good because that means [the community is] back on its feet.”

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