Analysis: Safety Rules Give Homes Better Chance in Wildfires

PARADISE, Calif. - The sky was turning orange and the embers were flying from the Camp Fire when Oney and Donna Carrell and Donna's father sped away from their Paradise home.

"I thought, 'Oh, well, the house is done,"' Oney Carrell said.

A few days later, they learned otherwise. The Carrells' home survived the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history with a couple of warped window frames, a partially charred down spout and a stubborn smoky smell inside.

Most of their neighbourhood was destroyed. A guest house in their backyard, where Donna's father lived, was reduced to ashes, along with a couple of sheds. Yet their beautifully restored 1940 Studebaker sat untouched in the garage.

The arc of destruction the Camp Fire carved through Paradise was seemingly random: Why were some houses saved and others incinerated? As millions of Californians brace for another wildfire season , a McClatchy analysis of fire and property records shows the answer might be found in something as simple as the roofs over their heads - and the year their house was built.

A landmark 2008 building code designed for California's fire-prone regions - requiring fire-resistant roofs, siding and other safeguards - appears to have protected the Carrells' home and dozens of others like it from the Camp Fire. That year marks a pivotal moment in the state's deadly and expensive history of destructive natural disasters.

All told, about 51 per cent of the 350 single-family homes built after 2008 in the path of the Camp Fire were undamaged, according to McClatchy's analysis of Cal Fire data and Butte County property records. By contrast, only 18 per cent of the 12,100 homes built prior to 2008 escaped damage. Those figures don't include mobile homes, which burned in nearly equal measure regardless of age.

"These are great standards; they work," said senior engineer Robert Raymer of the California Building Industry Association, who consulted with state officials on the building code.

Yet despite this lesson, California may end up falling short in its effort to protect homes from the next wildfire.

Mushrooming cities such as Folsom, where an 11,000-home development is springing up, have the ability to bypass the state's safety standards in spite of considerable fire risks. The state, which offers cash incentives to bolster old homes against earthquakes, so far has done nothing to get Californians to retrofit homes built before 2008 for fire safety.

It hasn't helped that housing construction went into a deep dive in 2008 and has been slow to recover. Raymer said only 860,000 homes and apartments have been built statewide since the code went into effect. That's just 6 per cent of the state's housing stock.

According to Cal Fire, as many as 3 million homes lie within the various "fire hazard severity zones" around the state. Dave Sapsis, a Cal Fire wildland fire scientist, said there's no way to know definitively how many of those homes were built before 2008, but he believes "it's the preponderance of them, the majority."

The situation is worse in rural California, where housing construction lags but the fire hazards are among the worst in the state, Raymer said. Fewer than 3 per cent of the homes in the path of the Camp Fire were built after 2008.

"Most of our inventory that was here prior to the fire was (built) between the '40s and the '70s," said Paradise Town Councilman Michael Zuccolillo, a real estate agent. "The average home here was from the '70s."

That leaves thousands of homes at risk from the next inferno across California, their wood-shake shingles waiting to ignite.

"What are we going to do about the existing housing stock that's been built in these places?" said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist at UC Santa Barbara. "For the existing housing stock that's out there, that isn't built to these codes, we have a massive retrofitting issue on our hands. They have structure ignition vulnerabilities that are built into the situation, they're baked into the problem."

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'THE WEAKEST LINK'

The Carrells, now living in a rental in Roseville, designed their Paradise home and did much of the interior work themselves; they knew that home was built with fire safety in mind.

"I knew we were in the middle of the forest," Oney Carrell said during a recent visit to Paradise. "Why wouldn't you do everything you could to make it last?"

But even he's amazed that their home made it. Stepping over a blackened patio drain just a few feet from the back of the house, he wondered aloud: "I don't know why it stopped here."

It's almost impossible to say for certain why some homes are still standing in Paradise, while others were ruined. Landscaping surely played a role ; fire experts say homes buffered by so-called "defensible space" probably did better than those wrapped in shrubs. Luck was a big factor, too, as homes were no doubt spared by last-second shifts in the winds.

Nevertheless, experts say, McClatchy's analysis reinforces their belief that California's fire-safe building code can make a difference in an era of increasing vulnerability. Daniel Gorham, a former firefighter and U.S. Forest Service researcher who works for the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety in South Carolina, said the California code is becoming a model for other fire-prone states.

"California is leaps and bounds ahead of other parts of the country," Gorham said. "California is on the forefront."

Advocates say fire-resistant building materials aren't particularly expensive. A study last fall by Headwater Economics, a consulting firm in Bozeman, Mont., found that "a new home built to wildfire-resistant codes can be constructed for roughly the same cost as a typical home."

But getting Californians to retrofit homes built before 2008 is an enormous task. The state requires property owners in fire zones who replace at least half their roof to install "fire-retardant" materials on the entire roof. Other than that, however, there's nothing forcing Californians to safeguard their existing homes against fire hazards.

A few California cities have taken matters into their own hands. In 2008, the City Council in Big Bear Lake, a community of 5,200 in San Bernardino County, passed an ordinance declaring wood shake shingle roofs "a severe fire hazard and danger" and ordered homeowners to replace them by 2012. Armed with state and federal grants, it offered cash incentives of up to $4,500 apiece for new roofs.

Although the grant program has run out, "I can't think of the last time I saw a shake roof in Big Bear," said Patrick Johnston, the city's chief building official.

Most Californians, however, are on their own when it comes to spending the tens of thousands of dollars needed to replace a roof or install fire-resistant siding. The state offers no financial incentives for fire safety the way it does, say, for earthquakes - homeowners in quake zones can get up to $3,000 apiece from the state to gird their homes against seismic disaster.

There are signs, however, that the state is beginning to get more serious about retrofitting homes for fire safety.

A law signed last year by former Gov. Jerry Brown requires the state fire marshal to develop a suggested list of "low-cost retrofits" by January 2020. The state would then promote these retrofits in its education and outreach efforts.

California also might start throwing cash at the problem.

A new bill, AB 38, introduced earlier this year by Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood of Santa Rosa, would create a $1 billion "fire hardened homes revolving loan fund" to help homeowners retrofit their properties.

The issue is personal for Wood, a dentist who spent weeks helping identify victims from the Camp Fire and the wine country fires of October 2017. Although eligibility terms haven't been spelled out, the bill would offer low-interest and no-interest loans to help those who otherwise couldn't pay for new roofs or other safeguards.

"A lot of these small towns are not as well off financially," he said. "We need to find a way to help them, especially if they're poorer."

The fund might not be nearly enough to go around - not with hundreds of thousands of homes in need of retrofits, and a new roof alone costing $10,000 or more. "The $1 billion, indeed, that's not enough to rehab every home," said the Building Industry Association's Raymer. But he said it's "an absolutely excellent way to kick things off."

Wood said state officials would have to figure out a plan for parceling out the money to where it's needed most - probably starting with lower-income areas near forests.

"Obviously we want to affect the areas with the highest risk first," the assemblyman said. "A lot of these small towns are not as well off financially. We need to find a way to help them, especially if they're poorer."

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MAPPING 'SEVERITY ZONES'

The fire-safe building code had its origins in two significant fires from a generation ago - the Panorama Fire of 1980, which spilled out of the mountains into the city of San Bernardino; and the monstrous Oakland Hills Fire of 1991, which wiped out 2,500 homes and killed 25 people.

In response, the Legislature ordered the Department of Fire Protection and Forestry to start mapping major fire risks in California, in the hinterlands as well as urban areas. The result was a collection of maps of the state's "fire hazard severity zones," encompassing more than one-third of California's land mass.

Based on factors such as terrain, vegetation and weather patterns, the zones represent Cal Fire's attempt to predict the probability of a fire starting and the likelihood that it could become significant, said Cal Fire's Sapsis.

The maps spawned tighter building standards. The Legislature mandated fire-resistant roofs in these fire-prone areas. Then in 2008 the state laid out a more comprehensive scheme. The California Building Standards Commission rolled out a suite of regulations, known as Chapter 7A, that set strict rules for roofing materials, siding, windows, decks and other elements of a home built in 2008 or later - right down to the minimum specs for the wire mesh that must be installed on attic vents to keep embers out (no more than a quarter-inch of space between the wires).

Experts said the regulations seem to be particularly effective at protecting structures from the types of wildfires that are increasingly common in California, where wind gusts can blow embers a mile or two ahead of the main wall of flames and do some of the worst damage.

"A window breaks, a vent breaks, the fire gets into your home and you've got an interior structure fire," said Joe Poire, the city of Santa Barbara's fire marshal.

Enforcement of the building code carries a few wrinkles. In the mainly rural areas where Cal Fire is in charge of fire protection, the Chapter 7A code is automatically enforced in any region that Cal Fire has designated as a "severity zone" - moderate, high or very high.

In urban areas that have their own fire departments, the code is generally used only in spots where Cal Fire says the threat is very high. Local governments have the discretion of rejecting the Cal Fire designation, and Sapsis said some city councils have been squeamish about the state's maps because of fears that the Chapter 7A code will inflate construction costs, or for other reasons.

Yet interviews with local officials throughout California by McClatchy indicate that the vast majority of cities and towns go along with Cal Fire's recommendations. Santa Barbara city officials extended the building code to coastal areas that had been overlooked by Cal Fire's mappers. The map omits small portions of Paradise, but the building code is enforced across the entire town, said Paradise public information officer Colette Curtis.

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DANGER IN SANTA ROSA, FOLSOM?

Nevertheless, there are places where local officials are reluctant to impose strict building codes - even where fire has caused catastrophe.

Before Paradise exploded, Santa Rosa's Coffey Park was the poster child for recent California wildfire disasters: Five people died and 1,321 homes were destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in October 2017.

Coffey Park wasn't subject to California's Chapter 7A building code. It still isn't.

Unlike some areas of Santa Rosa, the neighbourhood hasn't been designated a "very high fire hazard" zone by Cal Fire. City officials are OK with that. Although developers rebuilding Coffey Park are being urged to consider fire-resistant materials, city spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said the city doesn't see any reason to impose the 7A code in the neighbourhood.

"There were very, very high winds that night," Mertens said. "There were embers that were blown across the (Highway 101) freeway, across six lanes of freeway, into Coffey Park."

Jack Cohen, a fire scientist in Montana who helped develop the 7A code, said he thinks Santa Rosa is committing "an error in judgment" by rebuilding without the safeguards.

In any event, Cal Fire is updating its fire hazard maps over the next year or so, taking into account more sophisticated data on wind and other climate factors, and Sapsis said spots such as Coffey Park could wind up designated as high-risk areas. Once the maps are done, any region placed inside Cal Fire's "very high fire" zone will have no choice but to comply, under a bill signed into law by Brown last year.

But there will still be ways for cities to skirt the state building code.

Look at Folsom, widely considered one of the most vulnerable places in greater Sacramento to fire. The county's hazard mitigation plan says 44,000 residents of Folsom are already at "moderate or higher wildfire risk."

Now the suburb is building a development called Folsom Ranch, eventually to be home to 25,000 people, on a parcel south of Highway 50.

The development is on land that used to be subject to the strict state building code. Now it isn't.

How did that happen? Years ago, the land was outside Folsom's city limits and Cal Fire was responsible for its safety. Cal Fire's maps put the land in the "moderate" risk zone - a threat level high enough that, under the state's regulations, the fire-safe building code took effect. As it happened, no construction took place during that time, city officials say.

The situation changed when the city annexed the land to forge ahead with Folsom Ranch. Because the land has never been in the state's "very high" risk zone, the city feels comfortable letting Folsom Ranch develop without the Chapter 7A building code.

Fire Chief Felipe Rodriguez said Folsom officials are still open to "the possibility of strengthening, hardening, our future homes." But for now, the city is only requiring homeowners' associations to implement a "vegetation management" plan and install fire-resistant fencing around properties that abut open space areas, Rodriguez said.

Is Folsom courting danger? Rodriguez doesn't think so. The city will build two fire stations in the development and will "be able to suppress a fire during its early stages," he said.

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'STICKS IN A FIREPLACE'

The hundreds of thousands of older homes in fire zones aren't just more vulnerable in their own right.

Experts say they spread danger to new homes built to stricter standards.

"One little house built to a new standard, surrounded by a bunch of older stuff, is likely to get swamped," Sapsis said.

Paradise provided a grim reminder of that problem. The Camp Fire destroyed more than 80 per cent of the 4,100 mobile homes in its path, whether they were built to the new code or not, according to McClatchy's data analysis. That isn't surprising, Sapsis said, given that many of Paradise's mobile homes were jammed alongside one another in mobile home parks.

"They're stacked so close together, they're like sticks in a fireplace," Sapsis said.

Sapsis and others say the lesson is that strong building codes aren't enough. In particular, experts say communities must pay more attention to how they lay out their neighbourhoods, allowing for firebreaks and enough space between houses.

"In the name of affordable housing, we're moving housing closer and closer to one another," said Chris Dicus, a forestry and fire expert at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. "That serves to have house-to-house-to-house ignition."

The problem isn't limited to densely-packed urban areas. "I live in a rural community, and I have got six feet basically separating me from my neighbour," said Dicus, who lives outside of Morro Bay.

In addition, experts say California is struggling to enforce the state law regarding "defensible space" around properties.

The law requires that property owners maintain as much as 100 feet of defensible space around homes and other buildings in and around "a mountainous area, forest-covered lands, brush-covered lands, grass-covered lands, or land that is covered with flammable material." That means keeping trees and shrubs pruned and spaced far apart. Within five feet of the building, property owners are supposed to remove anything that could catch fire: mulch, plants, woodpiles and so on.

In practice, however, enforcement of the defensible space law has been spotty at best. Raymer, of the California Building Industry Association, said most property owners don't understand how to maintain their yards. The state doesn't impose penalties for non-compliance, and only a few local governments have chosen to do so, Raymer said.

Legislation could change that. SB 190, by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, would require the state fire marshal to develop a "model defensible space program," including penalties, that local governments could adopt.

The problem extends beyond homeowners' property lines. Gov. Gavin Newsom, finding some rare common ground with the Trump administration, is advocating for more aggressive management of forested lands.

A thinned forest northeast of Paradise provided one of the rare victories of the Camp Fire. As the fire raged out of the tiny community of Pulga, it essentially spared the northern part of Magalia. The reason was a series of forest-thinning projects conducted in recent years and overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, Sierra Pacific Industries and the volunteer Butte County Fire Safe Council. The council also worked diligently with area residents to clear brush from their property.

All that work "did exactly what we hoped it would do," said Calli-Jane DeAnda, executive director of the council, which secured $1 million in grants to remove fuels from forested areas. "This investment of public money is so worth the effort."

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THE PARADISE 'LAB EXPERIMENT'

The rebuilding of Paradise means thousands of homes are going to be constructed in the coming years to the stricter standards promulgated by the state in 2008. It represents the single largest test of the effectiveness of the building code.

"That is an absolute lab experiment for us," Sapsis said.

On the streets of Paradise, though, community leaders are taking a more measured view. Zuccolillo, the town councilman, said asphalt roofs and stucco siding might "give us more of a chance" but he doubts they will guarantee Paradise's safety.

"I saw metal buildings, metal and stucco buildings, burn to the ground," he said.

Still, there's plenty of evidence, all over Paradise, that the state's building code can protect property.

The other day, Sean Herr pulled into his driveway on the west side of Paradise, where he and his wife Dawn were raising their two young children.

The first thing he did was bring out the ultimate symbol of resiliency: an American flag, the same one that flew on his front porch the day of the Camp Fire.

Like the flag, the house is still standing. The Herrs' home, built in 2010, suffered a bit of scorching and some interior smoke damage - the smoke is bad enough that they're still temporarily living in Chico and aren't certain they'll move back.

Still, they marvel at what a close call they had. A Ford Excursion and a boat parked in the front yard, just a few feet from their porch, were destroyed. Five motorcycles locked in a shed behind the house got ruined. Most of their neighbourhood is gone.

The Herrs believe their attention to defensible space - the house is mostly encircled in gravel - and the strictness of the building code probably made the difference.

"Our yard and the construction of the house saved it for sure," Dawn Herr said, gesturing to a small scorch mark by the side of the house. "You can see it tried to catch on fire."

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Ryan Sabalow of The Sacramento Bee and Steve Schoonover of the Chico Enterprise-Record contributed to this report.

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Easy to do - familiar tasks to any homeowner... and especially essential for RV living in areas where bitter cold and snow and ice assault you for several months.I read several suggestions of covering the windows as well to keep out the cold, but just couldn't bring myself to block my view, especially since I can look out my window and watch the river - it is my saving grace while holed up inside while the snow flies and the temperatures plummet.This kind of view is what makes RV living so worthwhile.We quickly learned that for RV living in winter weather, it was necessary to protect our water supply and the sewer hose from freezing temperatures. With the help of the staff at the mobile home store, we designed a water hose from a small plastic pipe fitted with connections to the campground water pump and our camper. This pipe was wrapped in an electric heat tape, which was then wrapped in foam pipe insulation.Our flexible sewer hose was inserted into a larger PVC pipe for added insulation. It took a few tweaks to find the right elbows for the pipe, but we did it! Now the outside hoses were protected and we had a protected water supply for our first RV living experience with winter camping!These fixes worked great to protect our water supply and sewer hose; but, when we unhooked everything to take a road trip, we soon realized how "EXACT" our parking had to be when we returned home. It took several attempts of backing up - pulling in a little closer - backing up - pulling to the right a little more - nope - angle it more to the left... over and over until the pipes lined up just right for reconnecting.Normally, no big deal to do this - but it was bitterly cold that day. Just another part of the process of learning the art of RV living in winter weather.As we began our second season of RV living in Missouri's winter, we looked for other solutions that would help us easily and quickly reconnect our hoses. We had to find more flexibility.Google searching came through again as we researched more ways to survive in winter weather. The next winter, our water hose was wrapped in heavy duty aluminum foil, followed by the heat tape, followed by the foam pipe wrap. We also purchased a super heavy duty sewer hose that is able to withstand frigid temps. Now we had flexibility! No more rigid pipes to reconnect when we arrive back at the campground.One of the most treasured discoveries in preparing for RV living in winter was the electric radiator heater. These heaters work well as a supplemental heat source in small spaces and stay warm without using much electricity. Because natural convection distributes the heat, there's no fan to make noise, making them incredibly quiet. We didn't have to run the furnace constantly, never had to worry about running out of propane in the middle of the night and waking up to a cold camper.With all those fixes in place, the only big problem we encountered for surviving RV living in winter was condensation that built up under our mattress where the cold outside air meets warm bodies. (our bed is over the cab of the pickup)The solution?Create an air space between the mattress and the floor of the bed. I headed to Lowes with measurements in hand and asked for help figuring out my crazy idea. Luckily, I was helped by someone who knew exactly what we needed -boards to use as slats and 1/2 inch foam board to lay on top of the slats and underneath the foam mattress.Now the air can circulate... and the best part is the foam board added protection from the cold floor of the bed.I AM a happy camper... RV living in the winter is a piece of cake!Two years ago, we were stocking up on food and movies and water because the forecast called for a blizzard! We had expected lots of new adventures with RV living and winter camping, but, a blizzard was something we had never experienced! Nineteen inches of snow fell as we were snuggled safely in our camper.The next day, we were like little kids. We couldn't wait to get out and tromp around in the deep, deep snow that had drifts several feet deep.If we had decided to take off that winter and settle into RV living in sunny Florida, we would have missed the magical views of snow covered fields sparkling like fairy dust in the light of a full moon, surrounded by stillness.If we had headed South for the winter - sure, we could have played on the warm, sandy beaches, but we would have missed sinking up to our thighs in snow - just like we did when we were three years old and three feet tall!I would have missed that magical January morning when I headed to the river, wrapped in my sub-zero sleeping bag, camera and coffee in hand... and watched the glorious dance of the gulls swooping and swirling with grace and majesty.Full time RV living is our life and our dream.It gives us freedom. It also gives us opportunities to make the best of any situation.What's that saying - when life gives you lemons, make lemonade?Well, for RV living during the winter, when life gives you 19 inches of snow, you get to be a kid again!
One Week After Irma, Floridians Pick Up the Pieces
It's been one week since Hurricane Irma hit Southwestern Florida. Residents in Collier County, where the storm made landfall after the Florida keys, are in the early stages of the recovery process still cleaning up debris, wading through floodwaters, struggling to get gas, and trying to get by without electricity. It will take months to fully assess the damage, and the rebuilding process could take years. Yet already they are looking ahead to the next steps. They are figuring out how to continue with their lives amidst the devastation.Immokalee, Fla.In the agricultural community of Immokalee, about 50 miles east of Naples, Olga Garza, shuffled through water surrounding her house. She's lived there for 37 years, and this is only the second time it's flooded. The first was when Hurricane Harvey hit. The entire property is covered in at least six inches of water."It's not draining. It's just standing here," she says. "And you can smell it."She said she's called the county and no one has responded.Her granddaughter's husband, Fernando Rivera, helped wheel a grill out to cook dinner."We don't want the kids to get near [the water]," he says. "Especially after a hurricane, you don't know what's in it."Near the Immokalee Farmer's Market, Ray Gonzalez looks up at the damaged aluminum roof of the produce stall in which he's standing. He says they had boarded up the roof prior to the storm but it wasn't enough.Other residents are waiting for electricity to come back on so they can cook, like Sixta Vidaurri and her granddaughter Amree Vidaurri.Standing outside his home, Alfonso Garza gestures to the debris in his yard. He says he isn't physically capable of moving it, and hopes someone will come to clear it. Ft Myers, Fla.On Wednesday, a seasonally warm day, Shelia Lunsford, who moved to Florida three years ago from Alabama, was raking up debris in the heat at the Woodsmoke Camping Resort in Fort Myers. The RV and mobile home park had dodged the worst of the damage, but behind her an uprooted tree sat on top of a neighbor's parked car."We're doing the best we can to get cleaned up," she said.Many of the park's snowbirds won't return to Florida until at least October. So Lunsford has been photographing properties to send to absent neighbors."They're freaking out," she said. "It's helping them tremendously to see that there's damage or no damage."Naples, Fla.In Naples, broken tree limbs lined the streets of upscale beach neighborhoods. The day after the storm, Matthew Delgado, 26, who grew up in Naples, walked down with two friends who were checking on family homes. He said he planned to spend all week cleaning up the neighborhood."Now the real work begins."
'tiny Living' Is Only Romantic If You Get to Choose It. I ...
I just read another essay on living in a tiny house, and like every other essay on the subject, the author makes it seem like a wonderful adventure where less is more and a tiny house gives people the freedom to live wherever they want and go wherever they want.Tiny living is only romantic when you get to choose it, and I didn't have that choice. I've lived in tiny houses and don't ever want to again.The first tiny house I lived in was a small trailer in a trailer park with my father, mother and two brothers. Then, as a college student I lived in a six-foot-by-eight-foot aluminum garden shed in someone's backyard in San Francisco. In both cases, where I lived and how I lived was determined by necessity and not a romantic notion that the world would be better off if I was not squandering its resources.My family lived in the small trailer from the time I was 6 years old until I was 10. My father tried to convince us that we were part of the elite in the trailer park because our trailer was 22 feet long and seven feet wide. And since "small" trailers were those with a length of 20 feet or less, we lived in a superior sized trailer.There was a small bedroom for my parents. My brothers slept in bunk beds in the middle of the trailer, and I slept in a rollout bed over the kitchen/dining room/living room. Of course, I was always the last one to go to bed because when my bed was pulled out there wasn't any room for anyone to sit in our kitchen/dining room/living room.There was no bathroom. Instead, there was a large bathhouse conveniently placed at the end of the lane for our use and for the use of everyone else whose trailer did not contain a bathroom.It was like camping in a national park, and walking down the road to the bathroom is what you do when you are camping. Except we weren't camping. Walking down the road to use the bathroom was just a normal everyday living arrangement and not worth commenting on or complaining about. It was just the way it was.So what was it like to live in a small trailer? It wasn't romantic or weird or an unusual hardship. It just was. It was the normal and ordinary way to live. After all, everyone I knew also lived in the trailer park. And while there were many trailers larger than ours, there were also trailers that were smaller. And while I knew that people lived in real houses, we were not poor like others I read about who didn't have anywhere to live. I also lived in a house ― mine was just smaller and had wheels and would occasionally be moved from place to place.One week I would be in Yosemite feeding the deer and the next thing I knew I was in Albuquerque at another new Catholic school, and before I could really get acquainted with New Mexico, we moved on to Southern California.We were not homeless, and we did not have to sleep in our car or on the street. And when we moved, the trailer was hitched to the back of the car and we took our home with us.Although they never were ubiquitous, it seemed like there was a trailer park wherever we happened to go. Today the trailer park has often been replaced by mobile home parks, and the tiny homes I was familiar with have been replaced by Mac-mansions on wheels.My wife's parents lived in a mobile home park and would get incensed if their park was referred to as a trailer park. It wasn't like a trailer park I had ever known before. The mobile homes in their park were supposed to have wheels but none of them did and none of them could be moved from their permanent spots without a great deal of expense and the use of professional movers. In addition, the "mobile homes" in their park were not 154 square feet in size like the one like I lived in, but more like 1,540 square feet or more. And more importantly, none of the people living in these parks with their pristine, landscaped yards were ever referred to as "trailer trash.""Trailer trash" were people like me and my family who lived in trailers, who lived in tiny houses because that's all we could afford. "Trailer trash" were often people who were just one step away from living on the streets and who struggled every day to make ends meet and survive. "Trailer trash" was the label me and my family and friends were given because of our tiny houses, even as we did our best to live our lives with dignity, hope and love. Trailer trash was an epithet that came from the outside world, and even as a boy I knew I wasn't trailer trash.How could I be trash when my father drove a Cadillac? How could I be trash when I lived in a house and had new clothes every Christmas and every birthday?How could I be trash when I didn't really live in the trailer. I only slept there. I lived and explored the world outside the trailer, a world with marbles and pirates and train tracks that, in my mind, would take me to Xanadu and Timbuktu. I similarly lived in the jungles of Africa and climbed the tallest mountains in the world and discovered and explored ancient and lost civilizations.And when we ended up in Pasadena, next door to the trailer park was Bessie Park and the Bessie Park Boy's Club with a big library where I could check out as many books as I wanted whenever I wanted. And the Bessie Park Boy's Club had a wood shop where I would build furniture worth a king's ransom and create carvings better than anything ever made by Rodin or Michelangelo.It was my childhood, but living in a tiny house wasn't a dream come true. For my family it was a hard-scrabble living to be put up with until times were better.But for those who want to live in a tiny house, go ahead. But don't spend $30,000 or $40,000 or $50,000 to have one built. If you want to live in a tiny house, there are still trailer parks around where you can find a tiny house much cheaper. If people want to save the earth, they shouldn't waste the earth's resources building a new tiny house. Repurpose an old trailer. There are still 22-foot trailers around that might be just perfect for them to live in.Or the tiny house lovers could go all the way and live in an aluminum garden shed. I know where there is a yellow and green one, at least I know where there used to be one in San Francisco. It featured none of the comforts tiny-house lovers are looking for, but it was just perfect for a poor graduate student majoring in writing poetry. Along one wall was a twin bed which only took up three feet of living space, and since I am less than six feet tall, there was plenty of space for me to stretch out.On the other side of this tiny house was a sink. True, the sink was not hooked up and could not be used, but at least the house contained a sink. A life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary stood at the entrance blessing this cast-off collection of broken and damaged statuary. Was it romantic? No. But the rent was right and living there did allow me to go to graduate school.So tiny house hunters should not spend tens of thousands of dollars building tiny houses. They can find an aluminum garden shed the same size I lived in for about $300. The struggle is the reality of actually living tiny.As for me, instead of a tiny house, I now have a great big house on five acres of land with a giant library more than three times the size of both the tiny houses I used to live in. What's romantic for me is having my own library and dozens of fruit trees growing in my yard with ripe fruit most of the year and enough space to stretch out, walk around and have an indoor bathroom... or three.Have a compelling first-person story you want to share? Send your story description to .
Tornado Warnings in Ark. As More Storms Roll In
VILONIA, Ark. - A day after a series of powerful storms in Arkansas killed 10 people in flooding and a tornado that twisted a tractor-trailer like a wrung dish rag, residents in several states braced Tuesday for a second straight night of violent weather as forecasters again called for twisters to hammer the region.The National Weather Service issued a high risk warning for severe weather in a stretch extending from northeast of Memphis to just northeast of Dallas and covering a large swath of Arkansas. It last issued such a warning on April 16, when dozens of tornadoes hit North Carolina and killed 21 people.Forty-five tornado warnings had been issued in Arkansas by 8 p.m. Tuesday. A number of trees fell on homes and at least one vehicle, but no new injuries were reported.A possible tornado touched down in the East Texas town of Edom Tuesday evening, injuring at least one resident when her mobile home was destroyed, Edom Fire Chief Eddie Wood said.Also Tuesday, lightning struck a park in southwestern Michigan were children and adults were playing soccer. Several people were sent to the hospital, one with serious injuries, police said.The latest round of storms began as communities in much of the region struggled with flooding and damage from earlier twisters. In Arkansas, a tornado smashed Vilonia, just north of Little Rock, on Monday night, ripping the roof off the grocery store, flattening homes and tossing vehicles into the air.An early warning may have saved Lisa Watson's life in that case. She packed up her three children and was speeding away from the Black Oak Ranch subdivision in Vilonia when she looked to her left and saw the twister approach. Two of her neighbors died in their mobile homes, and a visiting couple who took shelter in a metal shipping container where the husband stored tools died when the container was blown at least 150 feet into a creek.Jimmy Talley said his brother, David, told his mother that he and his wife, Katherine, were leaving the mobile home they'd been staying in because they thought the container would be safe."He said 'I love you, Mom,' and that's the last that anybody heard from him," Jimmy Talley said.The tornado also reduced the mobile home the couple had been staying in to a pile of boards and belongings. The other victims were Charles Mitchell, 55, and a 63-year-old man whose name has not yet been released.Emergency workers kept non-residents out of the subdivision Tuesday. Pictures Watson took when she returned home showed a collection of demolished mobile homes, including what looked like a pile of insulation that she said had been a trailer.Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin said the tornado tore through an area 3 miles wide and 15 miles long, and he thought more people might have died if the residents hadn't been receiving warnings about a possible outbreak of tornadoes since the weekend and the local weather office hadn't issued a warning almost 45 minutes before the twister hit Vilonia.Pat Fulmer, 54, saw the warning on television and took shelter in a safe room. But as the minutes passed, she thought it might be a false alarm. The area had already received warnings for two other rotating storms that didn't result in touchdowns, she said."It was about to the point that we thought they were crying, 'Wolf,'" Fulmer said. Then as the tornado approached about 7:30 p.m., she began receiving calls and text messages telling her it was coming.Vilonia Mayor James Firestone said cleanup and recover work began immediately."We had people lined up with chainsaws at city hall ready to go to work," he said. The county's emergency management director said 70 homes were destroyed at Vilonia, with another 51 sustaining major damage.Jay Arendal, who had moved to the area only weeks before, lost his home but said he planned to rebuild. He had sent his wife and two daughters into a pantry and went into a closet with his two sons just before the house fell apart around them. The only thing left was a concrete foundation and scattered piles of wet belongings."I've got the shirt on my back," Arendal said. "We're going to pull the nails out of this lumber and raise this back."In the Quail Hollow subdivision, many homes appeared Tuesday as though they had never had roofs - there were no shingles or other roofing material on the ground. It was just gone.Terina Atkins, 37, a middle school librarian, rode out the storm in with her family in their laundry room. Adkins said at one point, she heard a loud sucking noise and realized the air was being sucked out of the drain in a sink."We clogged up the sink and we could feel our ears popping," Atkins said.Rick Satterwhite, 61, and his wife Debbie, 57, clambered into their concrete storm cellar as warnings sounded. After a few minutes, Rick Satterwhite unlatched the door, thinking the storm might have passed. Instead, he saw the tops of trees swirling, and the storm sucked the air out of the shelter."It was the ungodliest feeling and sound," Debbie Satterwhite said.
In Florida, a Food-stamp Recruiter Deals with Wrenching Choices
A good recruiter needs to be liked, so Dillie Nerios filled gift bags with dog toys for the dog people and cat food for the cat people. She packed crates of cookies, croissants, vegetables and fresh fruit. She curled her hair and painted her nails fluorescent pink. "A happy, it's-all-good look," she said, checking her reflection in the rearview mirror. Then she drove along the Florida coast to sign people up for food stamps. Her destination on a recent morning was a 55-and-over community in central Florida, where single-wide trailers surround a parched golf course. On the drive, Nerios, 56, reviewed techniques she had learned for connecting with some of Florida's most desperate senior citizens during two years on the job. Touch a shoulder. Hold eye contact. Listen for as long as it takes. "Some seniors haven't had anyone to talk to in some time," one of the state-issued training manuals reads. "Make each person feel like the only one who matters."In fact, it is Nerios's job to enroll at least 150 seniors for food stamps each month, a quota she usually exceeds. Alleviate hunger, lessen poverty: These are the primary goals of her work. But the job also has a second and more controversial purpose for cash-strapped Florida, where increasing food-stamp enrollment has become a means of economic growth, bringing almost $6billion each year into the state. The money helps to sustain communities, grocery stores and food producers. It also adds to rising federal entitlement spending and the U.S. debt.Nerios prefers to think of her job in more simple terms: "Help is available," she tells hundreds of seniors each week. "You deserve it. So, yes or no?"In Florida and everywhere else, the answer in 2013 is almost always yes. A record 47million Americans now rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, available for people with annual incomes below about $15,000. The program grew during the economic collapse because 10million more Americans dropped into poverty. It has continued to expand four years into the recovery because state governments and their partner organizations have become active promoters, creating official "SNAP outreach plans" and hiring hundreds of recruiters like Nerios. A decade ago, only about half of eligible Americans chose to sign up for food stamps. Now that number is 75 percent.Rhode Island hosts SNAP-themed bingo games for the elderly. Alabama hands out fliers that read: "Be a patriot. Bring your food stamp money home." Three states in the Midwest throw food-stamp parties where new recipients sign up en masse. On the Treasure Coast of Florida, the official outreach plan is mostly just Nerios, who works for a local food bank that is funded in part by the state. She roams four counties of sandbars and barrier islands in her Ford Escape, with an audio Bible in the CD player and a windshield sticker that reads "Faith, Hope and Love." She distributes hundreds of fliers each week, giving out her personal cellphone number and helping seniors submit SNAP applications on her laptop. On this particular morning, Nerios pulled into the Spanish Lakes retirement community near Port St. Lucie, Fla., and set up a display table in front of the senior center. She advertised her visit weeks in advance, but she can never predict how many people will come. Some events draw hundreds; others only a dozen. Her hope was to attract a crowd with giveaways of pet toys and hundreds of pounds of food, which she stacked high on the table. "What person in need doesn't want food that's immediate and free?" she said. She watched as a few golf carts and motorized scooters drove toward her on a road lined with palm trees, passing Spanish Lakes signs that read "We Love Living Here!" and "Great Lifestyle!" The first seniors grabbed giveaway boxes and went home to tell their friends, who told more friends, until a line of 40 people had formed at Nerios's table. A husband and wife, just done with nine holes of golf, clubs still on their cart. An 84-year-old woman on her bicycle, teetering away with one hand on the handlebars and a case of applesauce under her other arm. A Korean War veteran on oxygen who mostly wanted to talk, so Nerios listened: 32 years in the military, a sergeant major, Germany, Iron Curtain, medals and awards. "A hell of a life," the veteran said. "So if I signed up, what would I tell my wife?""Tell her you're an American and this is your benefit," Nerios said, pulling him away from the crowd, so he could write the 26th name of the day on her SNAP sign-up sheet. She distributed food and SNAP brochures for three hours. "Take what you need," she said, again and again, until the fruit started to sweat and the vegetables wilted in the late-morning heat. Just as she prepared to leave, a car pulled into the senior center and a man with a gray mustache and a tattered T-shirt opened the driver-side door. He had seen the giveaway boxes earlier in the morning but waited to return until the crowd thinned. He had just moved to Spanish Lakes. He had never taken giveaways. He looked at the boxes but stayed near his car. "Sir, can I help?" Nerios asked. She brought over some food. She gave him her business card and a few brochures about SNAP. "I don't want to be another person depending on the government," he said."How about being another person getting the help you deserve?" she said. ***Did he deserve it, though? Lonnie Briglia, 60, drove back to his Spanish Lakes mobile home with the recruiter's pamphlets and thought about that. He wasn't so sure. Wasn't it his fault that he had flushed 40 years of savings into a bad investment, buying a fleet of delivery trucks just as the economy crashed? Wasn't it his fault that he and his wife, Celeste, had missed mortgage payments on the house where they raised five kids, forcing the bank to foreclose in 2012? Wasn't it his fault the only place they could afford was an abandoned mobile home in Spanish Lakes, bought for the entirety of their savings, $750 in cash?"We made horrible mistakes," he said. "We dug the hole. We should dig ourselves out."Now he walked into their mobile home and set the SNAP brochures on the kitchen table. They had moved in three months before, and it had taken all of that time for them to make the place livable. They patched holes in the ceiling. They fixed the plumbing and rewired the electricity. They gave away most of their belongings to the kids - "like we died and executed the will," he said. They decorated the walls of the mobile home with memories of a different life: photos of Lonnie in his old New Jersey police officer uniform, or in Germany for a manufacturing job that paid $25 an hour, or on vacation in their old pop-up camper. A few weeks after they moved in, some of their 11 grandchildren had come over to visit. One of them, a 9-year-old girl, had looked around the mobile home and then turned to her grandparents on the verge of tears: "Grampy, this place is junky," she had said. He had smiled and told her that it was okay, because Spanish Lakes had a community pool, and now he could go swimming whenever he liked. Only later, alone with Celeste, had he said what he really thought: "A damn sky dive. That's our life. How does anyone fall this far, this fast?"And now SNAP brochures were next to him on the table - one more step down, he thought, reading over the bold type on the brochure. "Applying is easy." "Eat right!" "Every $5 in SNAP generates $9.20 for the local economy." He sat in a sweltering home with no air conditioning and a refrigerator bought on layaway, which was mostly empty except for the "experienced" vegetables they sometimes bought at a discount grocery store to cook down and freeze for later. He had known a handful of people who depended on the government: former co-workers who exaggerated injuries to get temporary disability; homeless people in the Fort Pierce park where he had taken the kids each week when they were young to hand out homemade peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, even though he suspected some of those homeless were drug addicts who spent their Social Security payments on crack. "Makers and takers," Lonnie had told the kids then, explaining that the world divided into two categories. The Briglias were makers. Now three of those kids worked in law enforcement and two were in management. One of them, the oldest, was on his way to visit Spanish Lakes, driving down at this very moment from Valdosta, Ga., with his wife and two kids. Lonnie placed the SNAP brochures in a drawer and turned on a fan to cool the mobile home. His son arrived, and they went out to dinner. Lonnie tried to pay with a credit card, but his son wouldn't let him. Then, before leaving for Valdosta, the son gave his parents an air conditioner, bought for $400. Lonnie started to protest. "Please," his son said. "You need it. It's okay to take a little help."***The offer of more help came early the next morning. Nerios reached Lonnie on his cellphone to check on his interest in SNAP. "Can I help sign you up?" she asked."I'm still not sure," he said. "We have a lot of frozen vegetables in the freezer.""Don't wait until you're out," she said.She was on her way to another outreach event, but she told Lonnie she had plenty of time to talk. She had always preferred working with what her colleagues called the Silent Generation, even though seniors were historically the least likely to enroll in SNAP. Only about 38 percent of eligible seniors choose to participate in the program, half the rate of the general population. In Florida, that means about 300,000 people over 60 are not getting their benefits, and at least $381million in available federal money isn't coming into the state. To help enroll more seniors, the government has published an outreach guide that blends compassion with sales techniques, generating some protests in Congress. The guide teaches recruiters how to "overcome the word 'no,' " suggesting answers for likely hesitations. Welfare stigma: "You worked hard and the taxes you paid helped create SNAP." Embarrassment: "Everyone needs help now and then."Sense of failure: "Lots of people, young and old, are having financial difficulties."Nerios prefers a subtler touch. "It's about patience, empathy," she said. While she makes a middle-class salary and had never been on food stamps herself, she knows the emotional exhaustion that comes at the end of each month, after a few hundred conversations about money that didn't exist. Nowhere had the SNAP program grown as it has in Florida, where enrollment had risen from 1.45million people in 2008 to 3.35million last year. And no place in Florida had been reshaped by the recession quite like the Treasure Coast, where middle-class retirees lost their savings in the housing collapse, forcing them to live on less than they expected for longer than they expected. Sometimes, Nerios believes it is more important to protect a client's sense of self-worth than to meet her quota."I'm not going to push you," she told Lonnie now. "This is your decision.""I have high blood pressure, so it's true that diet is important to us," he said, which sounded to her like a man arguing with himself."I can meet with you today, or tomorrow, or anytime you'd like," she said."I don't know," he said. "I'm really sorry.""You don't have to be," she said. "Please, just think about it." ***She hung up the phone and began setting up her giveaway table at another event. He hung up the phone and drove a few miles down the highway to his wife's small knitting store. They had stayed married 41 years because they made decisions together. She was an optimist and he was a realist; they leveled each other out. During the failures of the past three years, they had developed a code language that allowed them to acknowledge their misery without really talking about it. "How you doing?" he asked."Just peachy," she said, which meant to him that in fact she was exhausted, depressed, barely hanging on. She opened the knitting store three years earlier, but it turned out her only customers were retirees on fixed incomes, seniors with little money to spend who just wanted an air-conditioned place to spend the day. So Celeste started giving them secondhand yarn and inviting customers to knit with her for charity in the shop. Together they had made 176 hats and scarves for poor families in the last year. The store, meanwhile, had barely made its overhead. Lonnie wanted her to close it, but it was the last place where she could pretend her life had turned out as she'd hoped, knitting to classical music at a wooden table in the center of the store. Now Lonnie joined her at that table and started to tell her about his week: how he had been driving by the community center and seen boxes of food; how he had decided to take some, grabbing tomatoes and onions that looked fresher than anything they'd had in weeks; how a woman had touched his shoulder and offered to help, leaving him with brochures and a business card.He pulled the card from his pocket and showed it to Celeste. She leaned in to read the small print. "SNAP Outreach," it read. "I think we qualify," Lonnie said. There was a pause."Might be a good idea," Celeste said. "It's hard to accept," he said. Another pause."We have to take help when we need it," she said. Celeste looked down at her knitting, and Lonnie sat with her in the quiet shop and thought about what happened when he opened a barbershop a few years earlier, as another effort of last resort. His dad, an Italian immigrant, had been a barber in New Jersey, and Lonnie decided to try it for himself after a dozen manufacturing job applications went unanswered in 2010. He enrolled in a local beauty school, graduated with a few dozen teenaged girls, took over the lease for a shop in Port St. Lucie and named it Man Cave. He had gone to work with his scissors and his clippers every day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, standing on the curb and waving a handmade sign to advertise haircuts for $5. He had done a total of 11 cuts in three months. But what tore him up inside had nothing to do with the lonely echo of his feet on the linoleum floor or the empty cash register or the weeks that went by without a single customer. No, what convinced him to close the shop - the memory that stuck with him even now - were the weeks when old friends had come in to get their hair cut twice. He couldn't stand the idea of being pitied. He hated that his problems had become a burden to anyone else. He wondered: Sixty years old now, and who was he? A maker? A taker?"I'm not ready to sign up for this yet," he said. "Soon we might have to," she said. He tucked Nerios's business card into his back pocket. "I know," he said. "I'm keeping it."
10 Stylish Options for Cool Kitchen Cooker Hoods
Cooker hoods are those little devices that you have sitting over your stove. The majority of us don't think much about our cooker hoods unless for some reason they stop working. As long as they ventilate the stove area and keep us from setting off our fire alarms while cooking, we're typically satisfied with them. However, there are some people who have started to realize that the design of your cooker hood can actually affect the entire design of your kitchen. This is particularly true if you have a great stove that serves as a central design piece for the kitchen but it's even true if you just have a normal stove. A stylish cooker hood can add to the kitchen's design or even serve as a centerpiece for the dÃcor of the room.Take a look at these ten stylish options for cooker hoods:1.Star Cooker Hood. This one is part of the Elica Collection by D.R. Cooker Hoods Ltd. This is one of the best designers of cooker hoods out there. The Star is a favorite among the company's clients. It looks kind of like a chandelier and certainly adds elegance to any kitchen. It's a sphere-shaped cooker hood (which is unusual to see) and it's made out of shards of crystal that create dozens of little glass prisms. The result here is a cooker hood that serves as a fascinating little pinnacle of light for your kitchen and a great conversation piece for the dÃcor of the room.2.Wave Cooker Hood. This is another one from the Elica Collection, a fact which emphasizes how stylish of a collection this is! This one is called The Wave. It makes for a much more modern design than The Star. It also serves as a light source but here the light is coming through little wavy slits in the cooker hood. This means that it's not as bright as the Star even though it's just as functional as a light source. Here the design elements have more to do with the shape, color and wavy texture of the piece. It's a great-looking cooker hood and one that would be a good addition to the dÃcor of any modern kitchen.3.Glass Chimney Cooker Hood. This is a style of cooker hood that is made by several different companies. It is designed to look like a fireplace chimney that has been constructed out of glass. There are a lot of neat aspects to this design. The chimney look takes you back in time a bit to an era when you might have cooked over a wood-burning stove that also served as a heat source for your home. However, the glass design makes it a completely modern piece that is well-suited to even the edgiest kitchens. It's a style of cooker hood that is really versatile and would fit into many types of homes.4.Cooker Hood with Built-In Television. Many people are starting to put small TV screens somewhere in their kitchens. A cooker hood that has a TV built into it is a great idea. It allows you to add a TV to the kitchen without taking space away from the rest of the room. There are several different companies that offer cooker hoods with built-in TVs. This is one is from ILVE.5.Pink Cooker Hood. Sometimes it's enough just to change the color of your cooker hood without going for any sort of radical shape or fancy built-in gadgets. I think that a pink cooker hood would be ideal in some kitchens. As for me, I'd like to get a red cooker hood because the design of my kitchen is a retro design with a heavy emphasis on red appliances and gadgets. Cooker hoods come in a variety of different colors or could be painted (using appropriate stove-friendly, non-flammable paint) to match the kitchen design of your choosing.6.Valcucine Cooker Hood. Valcucine makes a few different cooker hoods which have a cool futuristic look to them. This is a lightweight eco-friendly cooker hood which has a variety of neat features. However, what's coolest about it is the look of it. It uses such a terrific combination of straight lines and curved lines in the design that it's look is familiar and yet unique. What a great design!7.Miele European-Style Cooker Hood. This particular cooker hood by a company called Miele was designed specifically for the modern European kitchen. Unlike most cooker hoods which have to hang above the stove, this one disappears seamlessly into the wall behind the stove. It has a stylish modern look that would go well in any kitchen that's designed to accommodate stainless steel or aluminum appliances. A great choice for a modern streamlined home.8.Curved Chimney Hood. Returning to the style of the chimney cooker hood, we get a different option for this familiar design. This one has the chimney-style look that works well for so many kitchens. However, it also has a curved design to it that changes the look of the chimney from a harsh one to one that is softer. Great for homes that are designed with a feminine touch, the curved chimney hood could come in white, steel or black to create different looks in different kitchens.9.Round Cooker Hood. The majority of cooker hoods are square or rectangular in their basic shape even if they do have some curves to them. However, there are also a few round cooker hoods out there which offer a different design option for your kitchen. A style like this is a really common one. It is designed to come down out of the ceiling and to hang over a stove that is built into a kitchen island. This narrow design is perfect for kitchen islands since it won't take up too much space.10. Motorhome Cooker Hoods. What if the place where you need to put a cooker hood isn't a kitchen at all - at least not a traditional one? Many people find themselves in need of a cooker hood that will work in the kitchen of their RV or mobile home. Never fear; there are a whole line of stylish cooker hoods that are designed for mobile homes. This cool gold one is an interesting option but you can look around to see what cooker hood style best suits your particular mobile home.
No. 2 Hog State Moves to Greatly Help Agribusiness in Suits
RALEIGH, N.C. - Blankets of black flies spawned by a nearby industrial hog farm's uncovered cesspools can be so thick, Elvis Williams told jurors Tuesday, he built a screened front porch for his mobile home so that he could continue grilling dinners as he's loved doing for decades.The 60-year-old former textile worker testified in one of numerous federal lawsuits that have rattled agribusiness in the country's No. 2 hog-growing state. Farm interests have turned to state legislators to erect new protections for the politically influential pork industry.Of about two dozen lawsuits filed years ago by more than 500 eastern North Carolina neighbours against Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Williams' is the second to reach jurors.The lawsuits contend that Smithfield, which dictates the conditions under which farmers must raise its hogs, has resisted changing its concentrated animal husbandry methods because they cost less than less-smelly methods the company already uses in other states.Smithfield Foods is owned by Hong Kong-headquartered WH Group, which generated $22 billion in revenues last year.Four blocks away from the federal courthouse where Williams testified, a state House committee on Tuesday approved legislation sharply limiting neighbours from punishing farm operations for causing severe nuisances. The proposed law would all but block other neighbours from suing industrial-scale livestock operations in the future.Lawmakers said their action was spurred by the $51 million in penalties a jury in the first trial ordered Smithfield Foods to pay to neighbours who spent decades tolerating horrible smells and other nuisances. The fine was cut to about $3 million because North Carolina law limits punitive damages meant to punish misdeeds. Smithfield, its related lobbying groups and rural advocates described the jury's decision as a threat to agribusiness in North Carolina.Landowners in the state's eastern farm belt turned to raising hogs or turkeys after the decline of previously profitable tobacco farms. The lawsuits now place those enterprises in doubt, said Joseph Scott, mayor of Mount Olive, a town of 3,600 people located in the three-county region that makes up the United States' heaviest concentration of industrialized hog lots."We are talking about the livelihoods of men and women," said Scott, whose town has one-third of its residents living in poverty. "We have nowhere to go."Williams and other neighbours say they don't want to put livestock operations out of business, but they shouldn't have to put up with the nuisances. They say Smithfield could and should eliminate those nuisances, even if it costs them more to do so.Williams said he bought the land for his home nearly 30 years ago, when the nearby landowner already raised hogs but before it expanded to its current size of up to 4,700 animals.The worst thing about the operation, he said, is the speeding trucks that slam on their air brakes at 5 a.m. as they arrive to empty a steel container containing hogs that died in their pens the day before. Then it's the boom of steel on steel as the crate slams against the truck's hopper, followed by another boom when the empty container hits the ground again, Williams said."It's very annoying. I can't go back to sleep."--Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at . His work can be found at