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Burning Man camp repurposes shipping container shelters for fire victims

Hundreds of miles from Burning Man’s Black Rock City, a group of converted shipping containers used each year to house festival attendees has been delivered to a private lot in southwest Santa Rosa with a new purpose: housing people displaced by the fires that raged through Sonoma County this month.

In all, 75 people can live in the seven converted containers trucked in Wednesday, said Lee Merschon, who designed the structures like tiny homes, replete with beds, shelves, electricity and minifridges in each of the living quarters.

They were placed on a lot owned by CannaCraft founder Dennis Hunter, who donated the space when he heard about the effort.

Merschon, 36, lives in Redondo Beach, but runs Camp Epic at Burning Man with his wife. They purposed the containers to withstand the high winds, extreme temperature swings and dust storms that can barrage the playa during the annual weeklong art festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

They realized the containers might provide housing for refugees of natural disasters, and contacted Burners Without Borders, an international disaster relief group, offering the metal containers as a potential resource. About a week later, the fires broke out in Sonoma County, and Carmen Mauk of Santa Rosa, who helped found Burners Without Borders, was on the phone with Merschon, calling the containers in.

“I care about Santa Rosa,” said Mauk, whose rental home burned down in the fires. “My heart is there, and I have a lot of friends there.”

The containers will be arranged like a little ?community, with an additional container designed to be a communal kitchen, and trailers for showering and bathrooms. Organizers are calling it “Oasis Village.”

Ideally, Merschon said, the containers will be used as transitional housing, acting as a “revolving door” where people stay until finding a more permanent option.

The first 75 spots have already been filled with teachers, first responders and people in the medical field.

“We’re focusing on prioritizing first teachers, firefighters, first responders and people who are critical to the infrastructure of Santa Rosa so we don’t have more challenges on the way because we’ve lost people who are integral to running the government and running emergency systems,” Mauk said.

Each windowless container is 40 feet long, ?8 feet wide and 9 feet tall, with abstract swirls ?painted on the exterior. The containers are divided into separate living spaces, each with a locking door.

“What we’re providing is a stopgap here,” Mauk said.

“Yes, this is not ideal. This is not a house. But this is a place where you’re going to be very ?comfortable. You’re going to have privacy. You’re going to be able to lock your door.”

Before anyone can move in, organizers must wait for final approval on insurance and permits from the city, Mauk said.

The containers will be in Santa Rosa for as long as they’re needed, or until late next August, when Camp Epic will return to the sands of Black Rock City.

If evacuees still need them after that, Merschon said, they’ll send the containers back.

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