The Santa Paula High School “girl’s gym” built in the 1930’s was more than just a historical building – it was filled with memories shared by so many in the community. Generations of students, some of whom now work at the school, shared what that building meant to them from attending prom to practicing with the band to playing or watching sports in that building. On November 27, those memories now include the ashes of this building as the community came together to grieve over its loss. The Disaster Action Team (DAT) from the American Red Cross Central California Region was there to assist the neighbors affected by the fire and to listen to their stories.
“Seeing the Red Cross in action, now I know where to make my Christmas donation.”
Initially, the mission was to bring blankets and hot coffee for residents whose homes were evacuated, and power turned off as many of them shared a property wall with the gym. DAT was onscene with an Emergency Response Vehicle before the sun came up that day to reveal the full extent of the damage. Initially, DAT provided a gathering place for residents, staff and firefighters in the “new gym” across the street from the fire. They came together to share experiences from the disaster, grab some coffee, and find a listening heart amongst the Red Cross volunteers. One thing they all expressed was their appreciation for the presence of the Red Cross. One neighbor stated that “seeing the Red Cross in action, now I know where to make my Christmas donation.”
As the morning turned to afternoon, the fire was still relentless with numerous hot spots raring up from a deep fire, as described by the fire department information officer on scene. It was now over 12 hours since the fire started, and it was expected to be many hours before clean up could even begin as the structure was a complete loss. Only now, a new danger presented itself with the possibility of a wall collapsing near the neighboring homes. Emergency personnel ordered a mandatory evacuation which impacted multiple surrounding houses and led to a 60-person evacuation. Severely affected by the power being cut for the next week, a critically ill client on a breathing machine was provided essential immediate assistance by the Red Cross which was used to purchase a generator to get them through the outage. With family members taking shifts keeping the generator running, they plan to keep it nearby for any future power outages.
“We are eternally grateful to the Red Cross for helping us when we were scared and just didn’t know what to do,” the resident said, “Thank you!”
By Linda Demyan, Red Cross Volunteer, Disaster Action Team Service Associate, Communications Team
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