Before the Camp Fire destroyed much of Paradise, Caroline Bolin lived in a low-income Section 8 housing complex in the mountain town. Her rent was $236 a month, a payment she could afford on her $930-a-month disability check.
Bolin is still waiting to see what happened to her apartment complex. If it burned to the ground, like so many homes in Paradise, Bolin is afraid that she has run out of housing options.
"I don't know what kind of home we're going to have and what can we afford," Bolin said. "We can't stay in a hotel all the time. I might be out on the streets with two cats. Oh my God."
Unfortunately, Bolin won't be the only Butte resident facing this dilemma. The Camp Fire destroyed more than 9,800 residences in a region that was already experiencing a housing crunch. Before the wildfire, Butte County’s vacancy rate was 1.5 percent.
In practical terms, that meant the the county was experiencing an extreme housing shortage before the fire, said Ed Mayer, executive director of the Butte County Housing Authority.
"We've been underproducing housing for our citizenry for any number of years," Mayer said. "So the capacity of California and local communities to absorb such a disaster is very very limited."
Paradise sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It’s known for its natural beauty and for being affordable. With Chico just 15 miles to the east, Paradise was also close to many “big city” services like hospitals.
"Now, with Paradise wiped out, where do they go?” Mayer asked. “They're not going to find many other places in California that offered the same combination of affordability and proximity to services."
The Camp Fire hasn’t just exacerbated the county’s housing shortage, it could leave many of the thousands of fire victims homeless. As of Friday morning, 9,700 single residences and 144 multiple residences were destroyed in the Camp Fire, and officials estimate there are about 1,000 housing units available in Butte County.
Mayer said the county is considering opening temporary housing at fairgrounds where people can park RVs or live in large walled tents.
But that is little consolation to Luis Batres, who lived in Magalia, a small town just north of Paradise. The Camp Fire also ravaged most of the town and Batres's house is probably gone.
"Right now, I don't know what I've got," he said while standing in front of a roadblock leading to the evacuation zone. Batres was waiting for the roadblock to open so he could see if his home was still standing.
Batres didn't have a plan if it wasn't. Would he find a new rental in Chico?
"I hope," Batres said with a note of hopelessness. "I hope."