Some families left homeless by wildfires on the North Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana will live in temporary housing units that once were used in Joplin for tornado survivors.
Seven mobile homes that had been used for tornado victims were obtained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the tribal areas of Lame Deer and Ashland, Mont.
Nearly half of the reservation’s acreage has been charred since wildfires broke out there July 2. Nineteen families have lost homes in those fires, according to Lafe Haugen, executive director of the North Cheyenne Tribal Housing Authority in Lame Deer.
“All but three were inhabited by poor people who could not afford insurance,” Haugen said. Other temporary housing was available in the area for some of the families. Seven families had houses that were in disrepair and were waiting on funding that was to be provided to make them livable again. Those families will use the mobile homes that Haugen said were hauled to Lame Deer from Camp Crowder at Neosho.
Will Fiorini, direct housing group supervisor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency who currently is stationed in Joplin, said the temporary housing units are taken to Camp Crowder after they are no longer needed in Joplin. They are cleaned and kept there until they are needed elsewhere or sold.
“The first group of folks who have dibs on them would be the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” Fiorini said. “We offer them to the BIA and do an inter-agency donation” if there is a need for them by Native Americans. “Then they are transported to the BIA or anywhere the BIA wants them or needs them.”
Those not claimed by the BIA are offered for auction, along with any other surplus FEMA equipment, online at www.gsaauctions.gov.
Fiorini said 393 local families have moved out of FEMA temporary housing, and 193 remain. There are 132 families in the housing parks at Hope Haven, Hope Haven 2 and Officer Jeff Taylor Memorial Park located on city land south of the Joplin Regional Airport. The remainder are living in FEMA units at commercial mobile home parks.
“Our caseworkers in the long-term recovery program are continuing to work with all the residents” who are left in temporary housing, he said.
FEMA housing assistance, provided after the May 2011 tornado, is scheduled to end in November, and the agency’s workers intend to have all families placed in other quarters by then, Fiorini said.
Housing options are opening up each week as Joplin continues its recovery. “FEMA intends to have a solution as soon as possible, and we will have to do some hard work to find a solution” for all of the families, Fiorini said. “But we do have a finite amount of time we’re allowed to help people after a disaster.”
FEMA has donated 182 of the housing units to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fiorini said. FEMA also has provided 155 to the government’s General Services Administration. There are 217 remaining on Joplin sites — some unoccupied — and 89 being held in Neosho, he said.
In Montana, more than 200,000 acres of reservation land have been blackened, Haugen said. The entire reservation of about 6,000 people was affected for at least a couple of days by a loss of utilities as a result of the fires. Haugen said Lame Deer area residents took up donations to feed those people at the local Boys & Girls Club during that time.
Area residents also contributed money and goods to help those who lost all their possessions in the fires get the things they needed for temporary homes.
“The good news is we do have the BIA as well as the Tribal Forestry Department” to help with tribal recovery, Haugen said.
After cleanup from the fire, those agencies will start rehabilitation, which generally includes the logging of trees that are not burned too badly and replanting, though it takes about 25 years for forests to mature, Haugen said.
But, the residents have all they need right now to recoup their losses, he said.
“We have done real well,” Haugen said . “The public here and in the surrounding communities, their donation drive was just amazing. Every family that was involved (in the fires) had the ability to come over and pick out whatever they needed,” from clothing to dishes, microwave ovens to television sets, all of which were donated.
THE NORTH CHEYENNE RESERVATION is located on about 440,000 acres in southeast Montana.