Before the fire, the Walmart parking lot in Chico, California, was already a natural place for people to seek a kind of refuge if they didn’t have other places to stay. According to Steve Breedlove, a local anarchist activist, the superstore turned a blind eye when people passing through town parked overnight and slept in their cars. So when the Camp Fire swept through the region, utterly destroying the town of Paradise and displacing over 50,000 people, it was natural that some 100 evacuees came to the parking lot to set up tents, and it was natural for Walmart to initially encourage them. Some started calling it “Camp Wallywood.”
As the people in the lot worked to adjust to their sudden change in circumstances, they were helped by, among other groups, a loose organization called North Valley Mutual Aid. Based on the principle of “solidarity, not charity,” mutual aid is a process of providing assistance to communities by working with and supporting them based on their needs, rather than from a top-down, hierarchical approach to aid.
This principle meant that when a Paradise evacuee named Tammy expressed a need for a community space, NVMA’s cleanup and rebuild working group helped build one in the parking lot. Two large beige tents set up side by side, with pillows, chairs, books, and some other items inside make up the communal space. A cardboard sign is taped outside, reading, “Come get warm!” For Tammy, this was important for recovering from the collective trauma of the fire. “We all heal in community together and when [NVMA] came out and built this community space, I know they get it because community is how we heal,” she said in a video filmed by NVMA. “Community is how we do everything.”