How One Camp Fire Survivor Finally Came Home

Northwest  |  January 29, 2021
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Samantha joyfully runs to embrace her new home. Photo by Huan Xun Chan.

Written by Huan Xun Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

For families affected by wildfires, the journey to recovery is often long and arduous, and is frequently riddled with unforeseen challenges. Despite any available resources, the process of securing a stable place to call home can be a frightening and deeply confusing task to accomplish. And for uninsured and under-insured families, the housing solutions are limited.

“It was really frustrating at the beginning actually,” said one Camp Fire survivor named Samantha Zangrilli. “It was a lot of finding out information on my own.”

The 2018 Camp Fire was one of the most destructive wildfires in California’s history, burning 153,336 acres of land and destroying nearly 19,000 structures. Over the course of two years, Tzu Chi volunteers and disaster case managers have continued to uphold their Camp Fire recovery efforts, and have been exploring different possibilities to safely and securely house the survivors.

In November of 2019, the Camp Fire Long Term Recovery Group (CFLTRG), which is now known as the Camp Fire Collaborative, announced the Camp Fire Manufactured Home Replacement Program. The program was funded by Samaritan’s Purse, the North Valley Community Foundation, Wells Fargo, the American Red Cross, and The Center for Disaster Philanthropy. Camp fire-affected families meeting the program’s criteria can gain access to a new home replacement if approved.

Tracy Davis, the community project manager of the Camp Fire Collaborative, said there is a gap between the survivors’ ability and the state and federal resources to get back into safe and sustainable housing. “The selection committee said an easy ‘yes’ to those who were uninsured, who lived in a manufactured home, that have the financial ability to provide for their own taxes and insurance going forward, and that this was their primary residence and they were homeowners at the time of the fire.” 

Tzu Chi Disaster Case Manager Bobbie Rae Jones has been helping Samantha Zangrilli while she navigates the rebuilding resources. Since Zangrilli’s family met the requirements for the home replacement program, Jones referred her to apply for it.

Disaster case manager Bobbie Rae Jones has been working with Samantha Zangrilli for over two years through her journey to recovery. Photo by Kitty Lu.

“When she became my case manager, it cut the time [I had to spend] into half,” said Zangrilli. “I spent my time filling out the application and getting back to her instead of just looking for them, which helped me get more resources, get my car fixed so I can make more money to provide for my business and my family.” There were many hurdles before Zangrilli could finally see the home, however. 

Initially, the home was planned to be delivered in March of 2020. But then the COVID-19 pandemic exploded across the nation, pausing progress on getting her new home. The delivery was then rescheduled to August. Unfortunately, the wildfires burning across California halted progress yet again.

“It takes a lot for a family to take all the little steps to get a home like this. A lot of our jobs are just to be there and be encouraging and supportive,” said Bobbie Rae Jones.

When the new manufactured home was finally placed on Zangrilli’s property in Concow, she ran to it with immense relief, joyfully hugging the house and sneaking a peek at the interior through the window. “Elated!” was how she described her reaction. “Like a bubbling soda that is fizzing over.”

A brand new manufactured home is delivered to Samantha Zangrilli’s property in Concow, CA, on October 13, 2020. Photo by Kitty Lu.
After losing her home during the Camp Fire in 2018, Samantha Zangrilli has finally obtained safe and stable housing again. Photo by Kitty Lu.
Samantha and her mother-in-law lean by the window to take a peek at the house’s interior. Photo by Huan Xun Chan.

For more than a year, she and her husband, Cheetah, had been living in a dome tent. In September, when the massive North Complex Fire ignited in Butte County, they had to move into her in-law’s home because of the dangerous smoke conditions in the area.

In the 20 months before the North Complex Fire occurred in September of 2020, Samantha Zangrilli and her husband had been living in a dome tent. Photo by Huan Xun Chan.

Jones put forth considerable efforts to be with the family throughout these deeply challenging times. “I was really drawn to help them even more, especially since it was disaster upon disaster upon disaster. We’ve had three disasters in this county. The people in the under-represented areas who are a little more marginalized, they need more help.”

Samatha Zangrilli plants different flowers and makes essential oils to sell. Photo by Huan Xun Chan.

Samantha Zangrilli’s husband is dedicated to researching mushroom greenhouse cultivation. Photo by Huan Xun Chan.

The final installation of the manufactured home was done six weeks after its placement, making the next task on their list to begin the task of searching for furniture to make their new home comfortable. 

“Our next step is we want to keep growing food. We got so halted by the Camp Fire,” said Zangrilli. Much of the couple’s time had been put toward restoring stability in their lives. “[The new house] is going to help us reach down and help more people. That’s been our whole goal, to feed Butte County, to find our niche, to be sustainable, to take care of this particular land because there is a lot of history here.”

Samantha Zangrilli and her husband celebrate Christmas in their new home. Photo courtesy of Samantha Zangrilli.

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