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Santa Barbara County Residents Get Updates on Latest Thomas Fire Recovery, Resources

Scores of local, state and federal agencies dispense advice, information, recommendations at Carpinteria community forum

Santa Barbara County, state and federal officials and representatives of fire recovery teams were on hand at Carpinteria Community Church on Friday to assist residents and business owners affected by the Thomas Fire. Nearly 50 organizations participated in the event, which drew an estimated 200 curious community members. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County, state and federal officials and representatives of fire recovery teams were on hand at Carpinteria Community Church on Friday to assist residents and business owners affected by the Thomas Fire. Nearly 50 organizations participated in the event, which drew an estimated 200 curious community members. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Barbara Runyon, a Sandpiper Mobile Home Park resident living in Carpinteria, was scrolling her Facebook feed when she noticed it started filling with friends and neighbors posting about Thomas Fire recovery assistance.

At a community meeting Friday at Carpinteria Community Church, she was gathering pamphlets and brochures with information about how to help local business owners affected by the wildfire, and recovery advice for orchards, farms and ranches that were scorched in the 273,400-acre blaze.

“I’m looking to see what information people may need because they are busy trying to recover,” said Runyon, a 60-year Santa Barbara County resident. “I want to make sure they know about the resources.”

There was no damage to her mobile home, she said, but soot and ash clustered around her residence.

After the meeting, Runyon was hoping to email acquaintances or tell them in-person about the information she had gathered.

Fire officials said the Thomas Fire, dubbed the largest wildfire in modern California history, destroyed more than 1,000 houses, most of them in Ventura County.

Flames came close to Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito and Santa Barbara.

“Having steered the head of the fire away from populated areas, the number of residences impacted will likely remain where it is,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen said Saturday morning.

Runyon expressed her appreciation for firefighters, the first responders, as well as the county officials and members of fire recovery teams, local, state and federal agencies on hand Friday to provide one-on-one assistance and answer questions.

“There are many people to thank,” she said.

Amid the Thomas Fire devastation in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, some residents searching for recovery resources spent their afternoon at the community gathering. Organizers expected an estimated 200 people to attend the four-hour meeting.

Friday marked one of the many outreach events organized by the county, according to county spokeswoman Gina DePinto.

County staff is working on a webpage and database system to connect with Thomas Fire victims, she said. The site is expected to be online by Jan. 1.

The site — which will be available in both English and Spanish — will include an online form for residential and commercial respondents to describe their impacts so county staff can follow up.

Each victim will be assigned to a staff member from the Planning and Development Department, if it’s a building issue, DePinto said.

County staff involved in fire recovery efforts will be staying put in the community through the holidays and working as fast as possible, she added.

Nicholas Nguyen, emergency disaster services director of the Salvation Army Southern California Division, was among the more than 35 booth representatives at the community gathering.

The Salvation Army’s services are coordinated by divisional disaster directors who are responsible for managing disaster workers, disaster equipment and maintaining relationships with local emergency managers.

“We are here to provide assistance,” Nguyen said. “When there is a disaster, we do spiritual care, help with the feeding services, and when there is a need, we also help with donation distribution.”

He said the Salvation Army supplied more than 5,000 meals, more than 300 cases of water and 1,630 clothing items to fire victims at the emergency shelters in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Unity Shoppe administrative director Elvira Avina and her daughter, Michelle, were browsing the booths to better help the nonprofit organization’s low-income clients affected by the fire.

She said Unity Shoppe expects fire recovery to range from 12 to 18 months.

“Every family is going to be a different process — it’s more than just the victims who lost their homes,” Avina said. “We are not only helping the fire victims, but there’s a secondary wave of fire victims, and that’s all the people who weren’t able to work.”

The Noleta resident said her son, a Santa Barbara City College student, was affected because his employer in downtown Santa Barbara closed its doors as a result of the thick smoke and ash that choked the region over the last few weeks.

“He’s lucky because he has me, but some of his co-workers work for rent,” Avina said. “People with low-income are beyond stressed because it has been three weeks, the holiday season, no work and no pay. It’s going to be a long-term impact that is beyond the homes that are burned.”

For Unity Shoppe, she said, the No. 1 need is for monetary donations.

“The first instinct is that people want to clean out their closets and donate,” Avina said. “We are not there yet. The best impact is finical assistance because it gives us the flexibility to meet an individual or group need.”

She said Unity Shoppe has seen a significant spike in the requests for service.

“We are having an influx of clients that we are trying to serve and help,” Avina said. “It has been hard.”

Among the agencies represented at the meeting were the American Council of Engineerin Companies-Channel Coast Chapter, the American Institute of Architects-Santa Barbara Chapter, the state Board of Equalization, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Public Health, the California Department of Taxes and Fees Administration, CAL-OES, the Contractors State License Board, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, county Animal Services, county Behavioral Wellness, county Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, county Community Services District (housing), county Department of Social Services, county District Attorney’s Office, county Environmental Health Services, county Planning and Development, county Public Health Department, county Public Works Department (flood control, resource recovery waste management and transportation/permits), county Veterans Services, the Department of Insurance Consumer Assistance and Investigation Unit, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Employment Development Department, the Franchise Tax Board, HUB International Insurance Services, Internal Revenue Service, National Resources Conservation Service, the Salvation Army, Santa Barbara Contractors Association, the Small Business Development Center, Southern California Edison and State Farm Insurance.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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.

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