Monday, October 15 , 2018, 5:41 pm | Fair 74º

 
 
 
 

Red Cross Provides Shelter, Sustenance to Santa Barbara Wildfire Evacuees

Santa Barbara Red Cross Chapter has set up two shelters for people displaced by the Alamo and Whittier wildfires

Communications Director Jessica Piffero describes the evacuation areas for the Whittier Fire burning in southern Santa Barbara County. Click to view larger
Communications Director Jessica Piffero describes the evacuation areas for the Whittier Fire burning in southern Santa Barbara County.  (Shomik Mukherjee / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara County Red Cross chapter spent a busy weekend providing food, shelter and therapy to evacuees across multiple areas as wildfires rage across the county.

The Alamo Fire burning east of Santa Maria and the Whittier Fire burning near Lake Cachuma have forced evacuations and in response, the American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter set up shelters at the Minami Community Center in Santa Maria and San Marcos High School near Santa Barbara.

The shelters come equipped with cots, food and water for the residents, said Jessica Piffero, director of communications at American Red Cross Central California Region.

Nurses, spiritual care counselors and mental health professionals work as standbys to help potentially traumatized evacuees, Piffero said.

Overall, Piffero estimated a total of 60 overnight stays between the shelters, and said the Red Cross also set up pet shelters for small animals. The Red Cross has also set up a shelter to help out in the Stone Fire in San Luis Obispo County. 

Though the multiple ongoing fires have made the operation “complex,” Piffero said, the disaster relief teams prepare year-round for precisely these situations.

“When we’re not in disaster mode, we’re practicing to be in disaster mode,” she said.

Red Cross has accepted donations from the community in the wake of its relief efforts.

Piffero noted that the Chili’s Grill & Bar in Goleta donated hamburgers to the residents affected by the Stone Fire.

Other businesses have contributed goods, but Piffero asked that individual citizens limit their contributions to financial donations so the shelters aren’t overwhelmed with merchandise.

It may take firefighters a few weeks to contain the Whittier Fire completely, but residents may be able to return to their homes before then, Piffero said. 

Red Cross disaster relief workers mapped out data and strategized how to help evacuees in the Santa Barbara operation center Monday. Click to view larger
Red Cross disaster relief workers mapped out data and strategized how to help evacuees in the Santa Barbara operation center Monday. (Shomik Mukherjee / Noozhawk photo)

For some affected by the fires this weekend, this isn’t the first time they’ve had to evacuate their homes, Piffero said.

Multiple experiences like this can be traumatizing for some evacuees, she said, emphasizing the need to prepare for these situations beforehand.

She recommended families create ready-to-go disaster kits and establish communal meeting points in the case that residents lose cellular network service.

Piffero and others at the Red Cross’ operations team have worked around the clock for the past 72 hours, and their own building in Santa Barbara is equipped for disaster.

Downstairs from the chapter’s operations office is a radio room and bunker, in case digital telephone lines fail.

Though the weekend wildfires have commanded the majority of the Red Cross’ attention, separate Disaster Action Teams are on-call for relatively ordinary incidents, including house fires.

“We’re still doing our daily work to help families,” Piffero said. “It’s a lot to cover.”

Noozhawk intern Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

The Pacific Coast chapter of the Red Cross has disaster relief vehicles available for incidents small and large. Click to view larger
The Pacific Coast chapter of the Red Cross has disaster relief vehicles available for incidents small and large.  (Shomik Mukherjee / Noozhawk photo)

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