Around 8:45 p.m. Tuesday when a storm was pending, the evacuation center at the Goleta Valley Community Center got word that there may soon be a debris flow warning for those to the south of the fire.
The American Red Cross volunteers rushed to set up additional cots, in case more seeking safety arrived to the center. While the cots were being set up, approximately 45 individuals were sleeping in the auditorium. And while not all of them were living in brick-and-mortar homes before coming to the evacuation center, they were all seeking refuge from Tuesday night’s cold and smoky air.
When asked what the policy is regarding the homeless arriving to stay at the evacuation center, American Red Cross Public Information Officer Nicole Maul said, “Our shelters are open to everyone. We know that disasters don’t discriminate.”
Ms. Maul told the News-Press that American Red Cross volunteers meet with those who stayed at the site before a shelter closes.
“We work to connect them with social services” if the team comes across someone who may not have a place to go to, according to Ms. Maul.
Tuesday evening, those present for the information briefing about the Cave Fire asked the public information officers when they might be able to go home. The public information officers replied that they did not yet know.
One woman expressed that she feared the electricity going out because there was food in her fridge in anticipation of Thanksgiving. She was hoping that the pending rain will allow her to return home.
While they were at the center, however, the evacuees were taken care of by a group of volunteers. The American Red Cross team of volunteers included a wide array of folks, locals and out-of-towners alike.
Food lead volunteer Gayle Labraña has been living in Santa Barbara County for decades. The Southern California native moved to the area to attend UCSB, and she has not left since. When the Thomas Fire struck in 2017, Ms. Labraña decided to take action to help others, even if she was alone.
“I was home for Christmas on break,” said Ms. Labraña. The situation at the time did not allow her children to visit her in Santa Barbara County. “I was all alone,” she said.
While she was watching the news, Ms. Labraña saw a notice calling for volunteers, and she decided to sign up.
“Knowing that you’re helping the community … you feel part of it,” said Ms. Labraña. “It’s a connection that’s very fulfilling.”
Ms. Labraña was not the only person who answered the call for volunteers. Lydia Barcos became a volunteer in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina 2,000 miles away from her home in Santa Barbara County. Ms. Barcos worked as a buyer for Raytheon, where she regularly participated in the company’s community improvement projects. She told the News-Press, “All along, I felt like I needed to give back to the community.”
Currently, Ms. Barcos works for the Santa Barbara County Education Office, which closed the Cathedral Oaks location Tuesday.
“Okay. I know there’s a need. What can I do to help?” Ms. Barcos asked herself. She showed up to the Goleta Valley Community Center in her American Red Cross uniform.
“It’s kind of a labor of love, because what you feel shows when you give it to somebody else,” said Ms. Barcos.
Ms. Labraña and Ms. Barcos were not the only locals volunteering for the American Red Cross. Jennie Risard crosstrains to be able to serve in different positions. Tuesday, she drove the emergency response vehicle.
“I heard about the Red Cross when I was a kid,” said Ms. Risard. Since 2004, she has been volunteering for the organization she has known of since she was little.
Michelle Devlin has been volunteering for a while as well. She signed up in 1979, when there were several fires going on in Los Angeles County where she is from. Ms. Devlin wore several hats to help others. The doctor of public health is not only a public health professor but also an emergency medical technician. She was visiting Santa Barbara to see her son when she learned about the Cave Fire.
“I called the evacuation center and asked if they needed an EMT,” said Ms. Devlin.
When the center did indeed indicate need, Ms. Devlin left the boat where she was living in for the visit and arrived to the Goleta Valley Community Center.