California Camp Fire Evacuees Face Bleak Choice—Norovirus-Infected Shelters or Hazardous Smoke

A norovirus outbreak across evacuation shelters set up for the deadly Camp Fire in Butte County, California, is leaving those who fled their homes with a bleak choice.

Their options are head to an evacuation shelter and risk catching the sickness bug or brave the smoke, which has reduced the air quality to a hazardous level.

The Butte County Public Health Department said on Thursday that 145 people in local evacuation shelters have been sick with vomiting and diarrhea.

"The number of sick people is increasing every day," the health department said in a release.

"Twenty-five people have been to the hospital for medical support. Staff serving the shelters have also been sick.

"The outbreak has been identified and confirmed by the Butte County public health laboratory to be the norovirus which is highly contagious."

As the Camp Fire continues to rage, the air quality nearby is seriously reduced because of the smoke which is blocking the sun in worst affected areas.

"Air quality continues to be very unhealthy to hazardous across the area," warned the National Weather Service in Sacramento on its Twitter account. "Stay indoors!"

On Wednesday, the Butte County Air Quality Management District and the Butte County Public Health Department issued a joint air quality advisory.

It cautioned that unhealthy to very unhealthy conditions are possible through the weekend as the Camp Fire burns.

All residents are urged to keep doors and windows closed as much as possible and wear a mask rated N-95 or better if they have to go outside.

Those who are who are young, elderly, pregnant, smoke or have a respiratory condition are at greater risk from the smoke.

Evacuee Carol Whiteburn was told that the makeshift camp in a Walmart parking lot in Chico in which she has sought refuge would be closed down by Sunday and that she must move on to an evacuation shelter.

"They're taking everything on Sunday, the bathrooms, the lights, everything. I don't know what we are going to do," Whiteburn told CBS San Francisco.

But one thing is for sure—she won't risk catching norovirus: "I'd rather breathe the smoke."

According to Cal Fire, the Camp Fire spans 141,000 acres and is currently 40 percent contained.

So far, 63 people have died in the Camp Fire and over 600 more are missing. The fire has also destroyed 9,700 homes. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated.

Butte County officials warn that it will take years to rebuild the communities devastated by the Camp Fire.

"We are still responding to the incident and have just begun to plan for the recovery of our communities," Casey Hatcher, Butte County's economic and community development manager, told Newsweek.

"This process will be years in the making, as we have seen in communities in Sonoma County and others across California that have faced destruction from wildfires in recent years."

Camp Fire california
A Cal Fire firefighter monitors a burning home as the Camp Fire moves through the area on November 9, 2018 in Magalia, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images