It seems the news media never wants to portray Americans as refugees. The press can describe folks in poorer countries as refugees when they’re fleeing a war or something, but I’ve never heard citizens of any rich country like America described as refugees. In the area near Paradise California, thousands of people have suddenly been rendered homeless after their city and homes were destroyed when the Camp Fire roared through town. While FEMA has been on the scene helping as they can, the folks are living in tents, and in their cars, and in friends homes, and in hotels, and in shelters. News articles are talking about a humanitarian crisis, but when folks are driven from their homes and living in an ad-hoc situation what can you call them but refugees?
This is not the first time Americans have been forced by environmental events into what we could call a refugee status. For example after Hurricane Katrina destroyed a large part of New Orleans, tends of thousands of people fled New Orleans and lived in similarly difficult circumstances for a while.
Going by the legal definition of “Refugee” we find on Wikipedia, a refugee will have crossed a national boundary to escape a conflict or other dangerous situation. I know from reading about the Syrian Refugee crisis, that those who stay within their national boundaries are legally called “Internally Displaced Persons”, but that phrase is too boring to use.
While these people who have fled Paradise have escaped a dangerous situation they have not crossed a national boundary. The Wikipedia page describing Environmental Migrants (a.k.a. Climate Refugees) discusses folks who have fled a region, without requiring that they have fled their country. To be a Climate Refugee, the folks must have fled because of environmental changes.
Thus one of the phrases on the Environmental Migrants page applies to the folks who’ve fled Paradise California: ecological refugee, environmental refugee, climate refugee, forced environmental migrant, environmentally motivated migrant, climate change refugee, environmentally displaced person (EDP), disaster refugee, environmental displacee, eco-refugee, ecologically displaced person, or environmental-refugee-to-be (ERTB)
So.. let’s use the phrase Climate Refugee to describe these folks. But, what were they fleeing?
In Paradise is destroyed while Pres. Trump lies about climate change and California we describe what happened. It starts several years back with many years of severe drought in California. This drought drew international attention, thanks to a 7-year period of very low rainfall in California. This left the landscape, especially in the mountains, very dry and full of dead vegetation, since it is thought millions upon millions of trees died in California during that period. In early November 2018, the weather for the northern Sierra Nevada mountains involved a strong wind (50 miles/hr) coming from the east that further dried the vegetation. Officials in California raised red flags on fire danger, and PG&E was considering a preventative power outage to mitigate the fire risk. On the morning of November 8, PG&E noted a power line issue just north of Pulga California (a tiny town in the Feather River canyon), and around that time both PG&E and CalTRANS workers on the scene witnessed a fire start. That fire was propelled by strong winds over 30 miles/hr, and spread quickly reaching the outskirts of Paradise (11 miles away) within a couple hours. The fire quickly destroyed over 10,000 buildings in Paradise, and forced tens of thousands of people to flee.
The name “Camp Fire” is because the location was Camp Creek Road, named for the Camp Creek that runs nearby. This road is a treacherous barely paved barely two-lane road carved on the side of an extremely steep slope on the north side of the Feather River Canyon.
What follows is a random selection of Twitter traffic showing conditions faced by those who have fled the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise California on November 8.
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