Since evacuation orders first began to lift for the Thomas Fire, the Red Cross has been there, helping families on the road to recovery. The local Red Cross is now expanding its recovery service centers for those affected by the fire:
Ventura County Credit Union, 6026 Telephone Rd., Ventura, CA 93003
Saturday and Sunday, December 30 and 31, 2017 – 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday, January 2, 2018 through Friday, January 5, 2018 – 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, January 6, 2018 through Sunday, January 7, 2018 – 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. NEW: Monday, January 8, 2018 through Friday, January 12, 2018 – 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Red Cross chapter office, 2707 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Sunday, December 31, 2017 – 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Ojai Public Library, 111 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA 93023
Saturday, January 6 through Sunday, January 7, 2018 – 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
The Tzu Chi Foundation will be on site in Ventura on December 30 to provide additional financial assistance.
A public hotline has been set up for anyone who may have additional questions about what services are available. Please call the hotline at (512) 745-2920 or contact the local Red Cross chapter at (805) 987-1514 to learn more.
Recovering from a disaster can be a confusing, emotionally draining and complicated process. Red Cross caseworkers are trained to help people create recovery plans and connect people with the services and resources they need.
Red Cross caseworkers will connect one-on-one with people to create individualized recovery plans, navigate paperwork, and locate help from other agencies. In some situations, the Red Cross may provide direct financial support. The assistance can be used for such needs as an apartment deposit, to buy clothes or food, or to cover immediate transportation expenses. Red Cross clean up kits (sifters, cleaning supplies, shovels, etc.) will also be provided at each service center location.
The Red Cross delivers help to whoever needs it regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or citizenship status. The Red Cross is a charity, not a government agency, and people who have disaster-caused needs do not need to be American citizens to access Red Cross services.
See our previous list of Red Cross Service Centers, here.
Note: This post was updated on 1/7/18 to reflect additional service center dates.
Over the span of the Thomas Fire, residents at Red Cross shelters receive unexpected visits from some special animals. Service animals are always welcome in Red Cross shelters.
On December 17, 2017, Miss Basil made a guest appearance at the Ventura County Fairgrounds Red Cross shelter. There are many special things about this bunny: she is Flemish Giant Rabbit and weighs approximately 18 pounds. But she is also a Therapy Animal. Her caretakers, Amy Hirahara and her son Andrew, know that Miss Basil’s large size does not prevent her from providing comfort and support to anyone who may need it.
Andrew stated that Basil was rescued from a breeder, and her greatest accomplishment is becoming a therapy animal that can now help others. Amy shared with Red Crossers that a resident laid down face to face with Basil and said, “I have not slept well in days, I could fall asleep right here with her. Thank you for bringing her today.”
On the other side of the fire and relief response, San Lucia Open Dog Obedience Group (SLODOG) and Alliance of Therapy Dogs joined forces to deliver comfort for those directly impacted by the Thomas Fire. They traveled to various groups supporting the Thomas Fire, including the Cachuma Lake base camp to visit with firefighters, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s dispatch center, and ending their tour at the Santa Barbara Red Cross shelter.
At the Red Cross shelter, several Therapy Dogs visited with residents of all ages, and volunteers received some cuddles too. The dogs were tired after a long day of visiting with first responders, evacuees, and volunteers, but they still were able to provide much needed comfort and support at our shelter. Together their visits brought immense joy and compassion to residents and volunteers.
During confusing times like these, a visit from a dog or bunny can make all the difference. It is due to the generosity and kindness of the community that residents in the shelter had entertainment, support, and relief during this heartbreaking and time. Special thanks to everyone for spending time with those affected by the Thomas Fire at Red Cross shelters.
Story and photos by Taylor Poisall, American Red Cross
“If there was ever a Red Cross Angel, it would have to be Bettye.”
This term, “Red Cross Angel”, is given by fellow Red Crossers to a comrade who consistently displays compassion, empathy and resourcefulness for the benefit of others- behaviors the American Red Cross holds dear and looks for in every potential volunteer. It’s not an official award or title, but rather one of endearment and honor bestowed by those who see the works of that “Angel”. It now seems a new “Angel” has joined the ranks.
I was visiting the Red Cross Client Service Center recently in Ojai. The volunteers there were assisting the impacted residents of Ojai, CA following the devastating Thomas Fire. The acrid smell of smoke still lingered in the air on this otherwise pleasant, sunny day. It was hard to imagine that just a week earlier the sky was darkened by the smoke of burning homes and brush and residents were fleeing for their lives. As I approached the service center, I was met by several volunteers who mentioned that perhaps I would like to meet with one of our own Red Crossers who had a remarkable story that needed to be told.
Bettye Berg is known for her humility and deflecting attention away from herself, so these volunteers smoothed the road for me by calling her ahead of time and asking if she would, perhaps share her story. They then drove me up into the blackened hills to meet her and along the way; my heart was breaking as I saw mile after mile of charred hillsides and ash. There were ribbons hanging in front of some properties to indicate that this had been a home that had burned to the ground. Nothing was left, and I got out of the car to inspect for myself: truly nothing remained. The fire had burned so hot, there was nothing but ash in many places. Then, oddly enough, in other lots down the road, green deciduous trees stood untouched. When we arrived at Bettye Berg’s property she greeted us with a smile and a ready hug. She showed us around, pointing out where the homes of her neighbors once stood and she shared with us her experience and survival of the Thomas Fire.
Bettye and her husband had been in Oxnard enjoying a dinner out when her son called her, very concerned, because there was a brushfire in nearby Santa Paula. The Santa Ana winds were gusting by then, and he was concerned for their safety. Bettye and her husband took his advice and decided to head back home immediately. The Red Flag warnings for extreme fire danger had been posted for days, and this year had been a treacherous one for wildfires; they were not going to take any chances. They found the roads back to Ojai through Santa Paula blocked, so they drove an alternate route through Ventura, and again, they found the road was closed. After several hours, they managed to make their way through, so they could get home to evacuate.
They arrived home about 9 o’clock that night and the scene was out of a horror film. Embers and ash were raining down on their home and the entire neighborhood. They both rushed into the house to grab the important papers and their beloved puppy, “Buddy” and ran for their RV to leave. In less than the 15 minutes it took to grab and go, Bettye witnessed several of their neighbors’ homes explode into flames.
“I saw, what looked like a cyclone of fire, hover over one of the homes from the sky and then just drop down on top of it. It was like an explosion of fire.” Bettye remembers. “It was terrifying.”
As they drove down the winding road into and then out of the town of Ojai, the wind was blowing so hard that the fences and brush afire on either side of the road were blowing flames across the road. “We were driving through the flames.” Bettye recalls. “It was hot, almost unbearable. But we made it out. We just knew, after what we had witnessed and what we drove through, our home was gone. All our neighbors’ homes were on fire, and we just knew ours was too.”
Bettye has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for over 30 years, serving in the Red Cross Health Services and then DOVES (Disaster Operation Volunteer Escapees) and Disaster Services during Katrina, Sandy and countless other disasters. She’s been a co-lead for casework and mass care, and has opened and managed countless shelters. “I never, ever, thought I would be a client in need of services from the Red Cross. Never.” But here they were; Bettye and her husband had arrived safely at the shelter and were checking in at the Red Cross shelter as evacuees. “I now understand a little more of what they feel-you know, that uncertainty and that fear. I’ll never forget it. It’s very different to be on the other side of this.” Bettye recalls. She and her husband had a safe place that night. They parked their RV and Bettye wasted no time. “I had to do something. I knew my home was gone, and I knew I could help. There were hundreds of people showing up that needed help, so I pitched in.”
Indeed there were! Ojai has a very diverse population, but in this particular area there is a high percentage of seniors, and that night 837 (mostly seniors) check into the shelter seeking refuge and safety. “Many seniors, like us, drove their RVs in, and there were about 45 of those. For 6 days, Bettye helped manage and run the shelter until it transitioned over to a shelter in Ventura.
“There were many, many people there with special needs and it was a very challenging task, addressing these needs and leading the other volunteers, but Bettye made sure they were seen by the nurse and their needs met,” commented Spiritual Care Team member Norita Cassou, “Nothing escaped her. She made sure everyone who needed attention, got it.” Even the evacuees in the RVs were on her mind.
“I knew they would need to dump their tanks. They’d been here 6 days, and as an owner of an RV, I thought this needs to be addressed too.” So, she put a call out to someone she knows in Public Works, and they came up with a solution that really helped these folks out in dumping their holding tanks. “You might say, I have friends in low places too!” she laughs.
This light hearted senior with bright eyes and an infectious smile then grew more somber. “When it came time, the California Highway Patrol was going to caravan us in for one hour. That’s it…one hour…to grab anything we could that might have survived the fire, and then get out. We started back up that road…….and I could remember everything-how it was trying to get out. I just knew our home was gone, but there was this little, tiny hope. That ride back up the mountain was the longest 20 minutes of my life. Lot after lot….ash…..charred trees, and all my dear neighbors’ homes were gone. I just knew ours was too. But then, we came around the corner and it was there….still standing. I couldn’t believe it! Even the trees were still there! There is no reason that our home should still be standing. None! That old, dried out wooden deck should have burned for sure.” When Bettye examined the home closer, one could see the burn marks and ash on the asphalt shingles, and yet it still stood. “I don’t know why or how. I have no explanation. I don’t know why, I don’t. But I’m so very, very grateful.”
She pulled her beloved, white ball of fluff puppy, Buddy, close to her heart and nuzzled him. I won’t be bothering with Christmas decorations this year. This is enough. ” Cassou pulls me aside and shares, her eyes glistening with tears, “She’s so humble she’d never tell you, but their second RV didn’t burn either, so she’s given it to her neighbor to live in while they re-build. That’s the kind of Angel she is.”
Bettye’s decades of kindness, empathy and selfless service has now come full circle. This is one Red Cross Angel who has, indeed, earned her wings.
Story and photos by Michele Maki, American Red Cross
The outpouring of support from the Santa Barbara and Ventura communities has been incredible. The Red Cross helps to mobilize local residents who want to help their neighbors after a disaster, including the Thomas Fire. When needed, community volunteers can expand the reach of trained Red Crossers by helping to hand out relief supplies or perform other tasks.
As of December 23, 2017, the Red Cross registered 1871 local community volunteers, with 834 community members attending an orientation and working a shift at one of our shelter locations.
I had the pleasure of meeting several people from the area who signed up to volunteer during the Thomas Fire. Despite all of their differences, they all felt a calling to help their neighbors.
Ben Pallan originally set out to volunteer with the casework team. When he found out there was a need for sheltering, he signed up to work two shifts at the shelter in Santa Barbara. “I wanted to do anything I could to help out, and Red Cross was the way to go.”
Sean Whipple, a senior at Humboldt University spent his Christmas vacation feeding residents at the shelter. “My mom lives in Ojai and had to evacuate. I wanted to help others going through the same thing she did. I really felt connected to this”.
Susie DiMauro from Santa Barbara works at a local nonprofit, spent her day at the shelter taking down cots and other random tasks. “I had a good time. It was good to help out,” she said.
As some of the lucky few that did not have evacuate in Santa Barbara, Deborah Danielson and her 15-year-old daughter Nicole, still felt the impact on their community. They attended an orientation at our Red Cross chapter in Camarillo, and then volunteered at the Red Cross shelter at UC Santa Barbara on its last day of operation. Along with many other new volunteers, they helped clean up the Recreation Center, which included cleaning cots and restocking Red Cross trailers so they would be ready for the next disaster.
“Our community truly came together when we needed it the most. Our volunteers made sacrifices to help ensure their friends and neighbors had shelter during this difficult period. The words ‘thank you’ don’t even begin to describe how much we appreciate their efforts,” said Kimberly Coley, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast and Ventura County Chapters. Thanks to these new Red Crossers and their efforts, the local Red Cross will be prepared to respond to the next disaster.
To sign up to become a volunteer, please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up today. There are several ways you can volunteer to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters with the Red Cross.
Note: Click here to see an updated list of Red Cross service center dates and times (12/29/17).
The American Red Cross is continuing to support residents affected by the Thomas Fire, even as the holidays approach. Several Assistance Centers are currently open to help local families as they recover from the largest fire in California history.
The following additional Assistance Centers will be open next week to serve the community:
December 26, 2017 through December 30, 2017, 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Ventura County Credit Union, 6026 Telephone Road, Ventura, CA 93003 Tzu-Chi will be providing services on December 30, 2017
December 26, 2017, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Santa Barbara Red Cross chapter office, 2707 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
December 27, 2017, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Palazzio Event Center, 814 E. Main Street, Santa Paula, CA
December 31, 2017, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Ventura County Credit Union, 6026 Telephone Road, Ventura, CA 93003
December 31, 2017, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Santa Barbara Red Cross chapter office, 2707 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105 Tzu-Chi will be providing services
Red Cross caseworkers will connect one-on-one with people to create individualized recovery plans, navigate paperwork, and locate help from other agencies. In some situations, the Red cross may provide direct financial support. This assistance can be used for such needs as an apartment deposit, to buy clothes or food, or to cover immediate transportation expenses.
Red Cross clean up kits (sifters, cleaning supplies, shovels, etc.) will also be provided at each assistance center location.
The Red Cross is also working closely with government and nonprofit partners to help develop coordinated community recovery plans and strategies. Disaster recovery is often measured in months and years, and the Red Cross will continue to be here to provide hope, comfort, and support to anyone affected by the Thomas Fire.
A public hotline has been set up for anyone who may have additional questions about what Red Cross services are available. Please call (512) 745-2920 to learn more.
Note: This post was updated on 12/26/17 with the latest available Red Cross services.
Note: This was updated on 12/29/17 with a link to a new article with expanded service center times and locations. Click here to see to the latest information.