‘I’m waiting for my paycheck.’ For Camp Fire survivors, simplest chores prove taxing

For survivors of the Camp Fire, even the simplest tasks can be incredibly painstaking and draining.

Like getting the mail.

On Thursday, hundreds of evacuees lined up outside the downtown Chico post office, waiting for their letters and packages in what has become a daily ritual since the deadliest California wildfire in history sent more than 50,000 people fleeing. With no mail delivery around Paradise — and few addresses left to deliver to in the ravaged town — folks have had little choice but to come to Chico and wait.

“All the mail from Paradise is being shipped to Chico. The only way we can get our mail is come here and stand in line,” said Jim Wicklund. Forced out of his home, he’s been commuting to the north state from the Holiday Inn in downtown Sacramento — the closest lodging he could find.

The wait Thursday was upwards of an hour as of noon, as the line snaked through the old building’s lobby, spilled onto West 5th Street and then around the corner onto Broadway. Many wore masks to protect themselves against the foul air.

For some, the wait was more desperate than others. Joey Chandler of Magalia, who’s been living out of his truck since the fire struck, was in dire need of his paycheck. He showed up at the post office Wednesday, but his earnings hadn’t come yet.

“I waiting for my paycheck so I can have some money to live on so we can get through to the end of the month,” Chandler, who works for Butte County as an in-home caregiver, said as he inched closer to the main entrance. “We have maybe 50 bucks to live on. Our truck’s our lifeline, we have to get gas, I probably need a new battery.”

Robert Jensen, who works for California Vocations, a Paradise nonprofit that provides services to the developmentally disabled, was expecting to collect his paycheck, too.

“Crossing my fingers,” said Jensen, who’s staying with a friend in Durham, south of Chico.

The wait in line brought out tears for some. A few feet behind Chandler, Andrea Kimball said she was trying to collect a birthday package intended for a relative. It was her second trip to the post office this week.

“I just started a job, I’ve worked one day, I’ve got no money,” said Kimball. “My house is gone.”

As she and others waited, a man near the front of the line reminded evacuees they needed photo ID’s to collect their mail. A Postal Service employee came out and distributed mail-forwarding forms, a Red Cross volunteer distributed fliers and a group of young people from Chico showed up with boxes of sandwiches. Out of nowhere, someone produced a handful of folding chairs to ease the wait.

“Everybody starts bonding in line,” said Joe Cardoza of Magalia. Cardoza, who’s staying with a friend in Chico, showed up Tuesday, was told he didn’t have any mail, and was showered with supportive cheers from his fellow evacuees.

Joyce Roberts, 83, of Paradise, who’s been sleeping in her car along with scores of others outside the Chico Walmart, came to set up a post office box. She had just moved into a friend’s mobile home, and said her house in Paradise is all but gone.

“I’ve seen pictures,” she said. “I have a chimney standing. I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime.”

But earlier that day, before she got her mail, she got the best news possible: She learned her daughter had survived the fire and was staying at a shelter in Oroville.

“I just heard from her; I thought she was dead,” said Roberts.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee