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A burned Jeep sits alongside a destroyed home in Niland the morning of June 29, 2020, after a fire swept through much of the community June 28, leaving one dead, more than 150 people displaced and 40-plus families without homes. | CALEXICO CHRONICLE PHOTO

Niland Residents Plead for Help, County Hopes to Restore Homes

Some of those who lost their homes in the Niland fire last year pleaded for a place to live before the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 4.

“I’m here to ask you for help,” Niland resident Maria Ponce said. “I have my two girls. I do not have insurance. I’m living in a trailer park in Calipat. …We’re begging for help.”

Travel trailers provided to the families left displaced by the June 28, 2020, fire in Niland were still providing a temporary home at the Del Yermo RV Park in Calipatria in January. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

Ponce and two other residents from the Niland area and nonprofit organizations who have worked with the residents came out to call on the county board for assistance and to lend their support in a county effort to help rebuild parts of the community.

The county is looking to apply for funding to replace some of the homes lost in the fire as the area approaches the one-year anniversary of the devastating event.

On June 28, 2020, the community of Niland experienced a fire that destroyed more than 40 structures and left 33 families without homes caused about $3.6 million in losses. The county declared an emergency and submitted a request for a state emergency declaration with hopes to secure emergency funding to assist the affected families.

That state declaration is still under review, according to county officials.

Now, the county is looking at the state Community Development Block Grant program aimed at coronavirus relief as a possible source to help fund restoration of the area. 

Funding from this source can be used to assist businesses and microenterprises impacted by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, public service related to COVID-19 support, facility and infrastructure improvements related to COVID-19 impacts and rehabilitation of property to be used in response to COVID-19 impacts, said Esperanza Colio Warren, deputy county executive officer. 

The county cannot house these residents indefinitely, she added. A program like this could keep these residents from ending up homeless. 

The county is looking at applying for $4.4 million to replace houses burned in the fire, she said. The property must be owned by a person who lost their home in the fire, and they must be income eligible. The goal would be, she added, to replace up to 20 properties with mobile homes as rebuilding permanent structures that were there would be too expensive and the money would serve fewer people. 

The board voted unanimously to apply for the funding.

“As county Board of Supervisors, our primary responsibility is to look after the health, safety and welfare of every resident in Imperial County,” board Chairperson Michael Kelley said. “This is incumbent on us to go forward and fight hard for funding to assist those residents in Niland.”

Some 37 families were initially housed at the Del Yermo RV Park in Calipatria in travel trailers that the county was able to procure from the state. In early February, some 13 families continued to be temporarily housed at the RV park, Colio Warren had said previously.

“The County of Imperial continues to pay the cost of rent for the trailers at Del Yermo RV Park and continues to offer support to families in applying for other homeless prevention and assistance programs,” she stated in a past Calexico Chronicle story.

Around mid-March, the county reported it had been able to use $350,000 in funds approved by the California Department of Housing and Community Development to clean up the damaged properties and provide three months of temporary housing relocation to families impacted by the fire. 

“All of those funds have been exhausted and the County of Imperial is awaiting contract execution with HCD in order to get reimbursed for those expenses,” Colio said at the time.

A sign posted by the Imperial County building department the morning of June 29, 2020, condemns one of the 30-plus destroyed homes in Niland, after a fire swept through much of the community June 28, leaving one dead, more than 150 people displaced and 40-plus families without homes. | CALEXICO CHRONICLE PHOTO
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