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27 FEMA housing units almost ready for Erskine Fire survivors

FEMA units like this one, seen April 4, 2017, in South Lake, Calif., are nearly ready to house survivors of last summer's massive Erskine Fire. (KBAK/KBFX photo/Carol Ferguson)

Contractors are putting the final touches on 27 housing units for Erskine Fire victims.

County officials got the units from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That'll mean a new place to stay for some survivors whose homes were destroyed in last summer's huge fire.

County officials told Eyewitness News the FEMA units should be ready by the end of this month.

On Tuesday, Pam Hunt had stopped by a three-bedroom home, where her uncle is anxious to get moved in.

"He's a veteran," Hunt said. "So, he's on a small income. So, he was really stressed about where is he going to go? What's he going to do?" Hunt said when they heard about the FEMA homes, they figured that would be the answer.

Hunt and her husband hoped to get a look inside on Tuesday, but contract project manager Andy Richter said they can't quite let people in yet.

Crews are still hooking up water and electricity, they need to get final inspections, and then workers can put skirting around the bottom of the manufactured units, and finally -- install stairs and ramps.

Hunt said her uncle's unit has a handicapped-accessible bathroom, and that's going to be a big help. It also has beds and bedding, and kitchen appliances like the refrigerator. "Everything is nice and new, and neat and clean," she said.

When the blaze broke out on June 23, Hunt said she and her uncle just barely had time to get out safely.

"The fire was already cresting the ridge," she described. "I grabbed him, and said -- 'Come on, we've got to go.'"

In all, some 285 homes were destroyed, and two people died.

Hunt and her husband live around the corner from her uncle in South Lake, and their home was also destroyed. Hunt said they've ordered a new manufactured house, which they hope will be ready by June. They had insurance, and also got help through the Small Business Administration.

But her uncle didn't have insurance, and that's where the FEMA housing helped.

County officials say the units were made available to low-income residents who own their property, and lost homes that were their primary residence, and were under-insured or uninsured.

The housing units had been deemed surplus by the federal government. They'd been brought to California after a large fire in another part of the state the year before.

FEMA agreed to transfer ownership of the units to the State of California, which was then transferred to Kern County. And, county officials set up a process to screen for survivors who qualified to get them.

The contract project manager said the units have now been put on the lots, and he said they have wind- and earthquake restraints that were engineered for the units.

And, while propane tanks were a big concern during the Erskine Fire, Richter said there won't be any propane for the 27 FEMA units. They are all electric.

"They're very nice," he added. And Richter said 23 of them have never been lived in.

Hunt said her uncle's home that was destroyed had a big porch and lots of flowers. He can hardly wait to move into the new housing.

"He's really excited," she said. "He's anxious to get in and get situated, and be back on his property, and make it a home again."

The FEMA units are usually considered interim, but under the county plan, if someone lives in one for three years they will then own the unit.

Hunt is thrilled her uncle is getting that chance, and she's very happy with the house.

"It's great," she said. "They said it's well-insulated, everything is up to code. So, it's going to be wonderful for him. He's going to love it."

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