People-Helping Networks: FEMA Does Not Approve

California wildfires rain not only glowing embers but also misery – losses of life, property, means of livelihood, and economic resources. The most recent source of this type of misery in our vicinity is the Butte County Camp Fire. Thankfully, according to CalFire, this incident is 100% contained. But not before it burned 153,336 acres; destroyed 13,972 residences, 528 commercial buildings, and 4,293 other buildings; killed 86 civilians and injured 3 firefighters.

The underlying or immediate reasons for the Butte County Camp Fire could be the subject of another article. Here, we focus on private initiative of ordinary people, too often thwarted by top-down rules. Top-down rules that counter the wishes of residents are a subject near and dear to the hearts of Nine-County Coalition participants.

When disaster strikes, people networks often form organically to provide rescue, help, comfort and information. Miracle City was one such network, formed by Ken Donnell and manned by many volunteers to distribute food and supplies to residents displaced by the Camp Fire. However, as Ken relates in his article The Brief But Beautiful Life of Miracle City, private initiative bumps against bureaucratic regulations more often than not. So FEMA evicted Miracle City from the Toys R Us long-empty building and parking lot Miracle City was using as its people-network base.

As an aside, Ken sent around an email sharing why the name Miracle City. Well, we have all experienced such rare moments.

A friend commented on the choice of Miracle City as the name for our fire refugee relief center at the old Toys R Us facility in Chico. The decision to use the name Miracle City was a spontaneous outburst that involved several persons at one precious moment in time out in the parking lot. It was a most magical moment, because we each recognized the accuracy and honesty of this name to describe our work together. We were creating a miracle of hope and recovery for those who were at extreme risk to lose all hope. As I reported, we always managed to created a larger miracle than the day before.

We heard about Miracle City from a Nine-County Coalition participant who herself is spreading much needed information to and about those affected by the Camp Fire. She sent us Ken’s story. So here it is.


The Brief But Beautiful Lifespan Of Miracle City

By Ken Donnell – November 29, 2018

Miracle City

The story in the 11-28-18 edition of local papers about our work at the Miracle City Recovery Center in Chico is an accurate representation of the status of this great work at the time when the local papers closed their editorial work during the holidays for this edition. But, much has changed in the past week, and I am writing now to provide an update.

Miracle City ended up with a very brief life span. Soon after we began operations inside Miracle City, I was contacted by FEMA representatives requesting that I return control of the facility to Butte County and FEMA. We arranged for a smooth and orderly transition between our volunteer relief operations, and the hand over to FEMA on Sunday, November 25 at 3 pm. At 2 pm on that same day, we held a closing ceremony to celebrate our many wonderful accomplishments in the previous 2 weeks.

During our 8 days of operation inside Miracle City, and the 6 days previous when we were outside in the parking lot, we received and distributed, by my rough estimation, approximately 140 tons of relief supplies directly to fire refugees. Plus, we received stored an additional 100 tons of supplies which were warehoused inside the facility at the time FEMA took control.

Over 400 volunteers contributed thousands of hours of labor to keep Miracle City operational. We served approximately 8,000 fire refugees during our 14 days of operation inside and outside of the facility. We provide essential survival supplies to these refugees, plus counseling and referral services for needs we could not meet ourselves. We rented porta-potties and forklifts. We kept a database of all volunteers and fire refugees to pass on to FEMA to help with locating missing persons and recording volunteer work. And we operated safely within this dilapidated facility without any injury, not even a band aid was required. Read More