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California communities band together to bring Thanksgiving to wildfire survivors

Noted chefs José Andrés and Guy Fieri supervised gourmet-level turkey dinners.
Image: Katherine Clement prepares bagged lunches for firefighters as she works with the nonprofit World Central Kitchen
Katherine Clement prepares bagged lunches for firefighters as she works with the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which is also hosting a Thanksgiving meal for people displaced by the Camp Fire, on the campus of California State University in Chico on Wednesday.Kathleen Ronayne / AP

From celebrity chefs to concerned residents, volunteers served thousands of Thanksgiving meals Thursday to survivors of the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California.

Among those pitching in were the noted chefs José Andrés and Guy Fieri, who oversaw meal preparations for evacuees at California State University at Chico in Butte County. The Camp Fire there is "a fire like no other fire in America," Andrés told NBC News' Steve Patterson.

"You feel for the people who had to go through it," he said. "We hope that plate of food gives them a sense that America cares for them."

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tweeted a photo of himself helping in the kitchen. The image was accompanied by gratitude to Andrés "for all you’re doing for the victims of our fires and the first responders."

Organizers estimated that 15,000 plates would be served on campus Thursday.

More than 500 meals were served at pre-Thanksgiving turkey dinner Wednesday night at the Oroville Rescue Mission, where some survivors have found shelter, said volunteer Kenneth Peters.

More than 50 people donated time and food, Peters said. "A lot of them came from way outside of the county," he said.

The 153,336-acre Camp Fire, which all but destroyed the nearby town of Paradise, had killed 84 people and had taken out nearly 14,000 residences as of Thursday night. The blaze, which was sparked Nov. 8, was near full containment Thursday as rains doused much of the state.

Hundreds if not thousands of Camp Fire evacuees are still in shelters and makeshift campsites. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, reported that three of six shelters set up for evacuees were full.

Starting at 11 a.m. local time Thursday, several nonprofits alongside the town of Paradise, World Central Kitchen and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. began hosting Thanksgiving for survivors at Cal State-Chico.

"When you notice this happening," Fieri said of the Camp Fire, "you just gotta come and help. We need more coming together."

Four seating times were scheduled. In addition, organizers planned to "provide evacuees at all official shelters with a Thanksgiving meal at the shelters themselves," according to a statement from the Paradise Emergency Operations Center.

The event, Thanksgiving Together, was billed as "a chance to bring together and bless the community through the unifying and healing power of food."

Robin Gregory, a spokeswoman for Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., said beer, unfortunately, would not be served. "It's an all-ages event," she said.

Some evacuees celebrated the holiday at the homes of family members who have been providing temporary shelter.

Karman Beller, 33 and her husband, Ryan Beller, 30, lost their home in the Camp Fire. She's six months pregnant and staying with her husband's family.

"We’re lucky we have in-laws," she said as she awaited turkey dinner with them at their Chico-area residence on Thursday night. "We're just happy to be alive."

Jeff Hill's home was lost in the fire, and so was his mother's home and his grandfather's. Hill planned to visit relatives in the Chico area for celebrations Thursday.

"I hope everybody can get back to our home" — Paradise, he said.

In Southern California, those who survived the Woolsey Fire were welcomed to turkey dinner at the Malibu Strong Community Thanksgiving at Pepperdine University.

That wildfire, now 100 percent contained, also started Nov. 8. It consumed 96,949 acres, took out 1,500 structures and killed three people, Cal Fire officials said.