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Hardly any fire victims sleeping at tent city

Union Tribune (2007-11-10) Liz Neely

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More Info: Blackwater, Blackwater West, Harris Ranch Fire

By Liz Neely

November 10, 2007

EAST COUNTY – Hundreds of people are picking up supplies at a tent city in Barrett Junction set up for victims of the Harris fire, but only two people are sleeping there.

People who've lost their homes have temporarily moved in with family and friends. Some are still using hotel vouchers from the Red Cross. Mark Cremeans, director of Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team, said more might seek shelter when their vouchers are gone, possibly this weekend.

“If we don't build it, they won't come,” Cremeans said yesterday.

The tent city, which is run by West Melbourne, Fla.-based Churches of Christ, has been open since Monday. It offers food, water, hot meals and supplies to those displaced by the fire.

Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial private security company, donated the tents, cots and trailers that house washers, dryers and showers.

Those amenities have been popular, Cremeans said. But the 88 cots are mostly empty.

Power has not been completely restored, so many, including tent city operators, are using generators. A spokeswoman for SDG&E said about 400 backcountry customers countywide are still without power. It should be restored by tomorrow.

The Harris fire started Oct. 21. According to a county list, the blaze destroyed 283 homes and 171 outbuildings.

Some say they are suspicious of Blackwater's role at the temporary shelter, set up on a half-acre lot across from the Barrett Junction Cafe.

“I don't trust them,” said Jim Ferguson, who lost his home at the Barrett Lake Mobile Home Park. He and his wife, Antonia, have been staying with friends in Dulzura.

Even though Blackwater has no hand in the day-to-day operations at the tent city, rumors persist.

“A lot of people I talked to, they're not really interested because of Blackwater,” said Yvette Montes, who manages the mobile home park.

Of the 71 homes there, 27 burned in the Harris fire. Many of those displaced are staying with family in Mexico, Montes said.

“To them, (the tent city) is more like a campground instead of a home,” she said.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, whose district covers East County, toured the shelter yesterday after meeting with some displaced residents at the cafe. She said many seem to have found other accommodations.

“People out here are very proud,” Jacob said. “They're very hesitant to ask for help.”

Brian Bonfiglio, a Blackwater vice president, said the company's involvement might keep “a select few away.” But a lot of people are grateful for Blackwater's help, he said.

“I've had people say, 'I don't agree with what you are doing in Iraq, but thank you for what you are doing here,' ” Bonfiglio said.

Churches of Christ banners are expected to arrive soon, Cremeans said. In the meantime, the only visible logo is Blackwater's.

A jungle gym and a kitchen should be here in the next several days, Cremeans said. The tent city is expected to be up for 90 days, but Cremeans said the group will only stay as long as people need help.

_Where: A half-acre lot at state Route 94 and Barrett Lake Road

Information: To stay at the tent city, call Mark and Laura Cremeans at (858) 688-1408. An ID or piece of mail must be presented and will be checked against a list of lost homes._

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Title Hardly any fire victims sleeping at tent city
Publisher Union Tribune
Author Liz Neely
Pub Date 2007-11-10
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Keywords Blackwater, Blackwater West, Harris Ranch Fire
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Topic revision: r2 - 23 May 2008, RaymondLutz
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