Recovery a Long, Frustrating Process for Butte Fire Victims

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Five months since the Butte Fire's unapologetic flames ripped through Calaveras and Amador counties, many victims are still homeless.

FEMA stepped in, and nearly half a million dollars has gone to help survivors pay for rent in new homes and apartments, but some don’t want to leave their properties. The wait for a FEMA manufactured housing unit is a long one.

Gina Wise knows all about the lengthy process. The flames destroyed her home in Mokelumne Hill, and Wise had no choice but to move to Las Vegas with her 1-year-old daughter because living on the property wasn’t safe for the little one. She left her husband and son behind for three months and is now back, but she spent weeks sleeping at a shelter in the Mountain Ranch Community Club.

"It’s hard because I don’t get to see mom a lot. I miss my sister," said Wise's 12-year-old son, Dylan.

Saying Wise is frustrated is an understatement.

"There’s no timeline. It’s like, 'How long am I going to live in this trailer? How long am I going to live in that shelter?' People are frustrated because they don’t know, because there is no answers."

FEMA has an answer, but it’s not the one Wise is looking for.

Christine Borgognoni, FEMA housing team lead, could just say every situation is different.

FEMA said there’s not an average time the process of getting a manufactured housing unit on private property takes. Before putting it on the land, several things need to happen.

From different agencies helping with debris clearance to soil testing to electric, water and septic hookups, which are all responsibilities of the applicant, the guidelines must be followed, and there are no exceptions. The agency claims it's all about safety.

Thee terrain in Calaveras County and Mother Nature aren’t helping.

"Debris clearance is very slow because of the limited roads and narrowness of the roads, and we’re all grateful for the rain, but it does slow down the ability to remove debris," Borgognoni said.

While Wise continues to wait, Brenda Lundgren is finally experiencing some normalcy after the Mountain Ranch native moved into her manufactured housing unit in December. Her home also burned to the ground.

Lundgren said the process wasn't easy for her. She lived in a tent for 63 days then moved to a trailer for a few weeks until her housing unit was ready.

Her new temporary home was moved onto her property right before Christmas.

"It’s what we’re happy to say is our home right now," Lundgren said.

As of February 11 in Calaveras County, FEMA reports 10 manufactured housing units are on private sites, 15 are on commercial sites and five are in some stage of being processed. ​

FEMA tells FOX40, after Wise gets a dumpster removed from her property, a work order will be placed to get an inspector up to the site to do one final check. It could be another week or two before Wise is in her manufactured housing unit.

The manufactured housing units are temporary.

FEMA said victims are only expected to live in them for about 18 months while looking for a permanent solution.