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As the fires ablaze in Orange County began to burn, so did efforts to shelter, feed and help people and animals affected by the flames.

Nearly 100,000 residents fled their homes following mandatory evacuation orders from The Silverado Canyon and the Blue Ridge Fires, all in the midst of a pandemic. 

People all over the county scrambled to get their most prized possessions and themselves out of the area quickly and safely — some not sure where to go.

Cities like Irvine setup evacuation centers to take in those who fled their homes. Many of the evacuation centers in Irvine reached capacity roughly 15 to 20 minutes after officials opened them.

The American Red Cross has paid for hotel rooms for evacuees impacted by the fires also offering other services to them as well.

“We will drop off meals. We will have our disaster house services give them a call every day. We call every family every day just to make sure they’re doing okay and we make sure they’re feeling okay and if they need it, we will have our disaster mental health team give them a call,” said Debbie Leahy, Red Cross Regional Disaster Office for five counties including Orange County.

“Whatever their needs are, we will connect them with resources, whether we provide them or whether they’re external resources.”

Leahy said that on Tuesday night the Red Cross provided 429 people shelter and meals — over 170 of whom consisted of families. 

She added the best way to help is to donate money to the Red Cross to help them continue providing such service to people. Leahy also said now is a good time for families to seat down and prepare for such disasters by coming up with a plan

“If you needed to evacuate, what is it that you would take?,” Leahy said. “If you have children, make sure that they know that this is our family plan that we’re going to be okay, and this is what we’re going to do.”

Some of the residents who had to evacuate their homes are pastors at the Village Church in Irvine like David Hughes. 

The pastors drove to the church and decided they would use it to provide shelter to those in need and informed the city that they could send people their way.

“We just opened it up and started setting up chairs and then pretty soon we needed more chairs,” Hughes told the Voice of OC in an interview. “We went through the building and found every bottle of water, snacks and anything we could find that we had and started serving it.”

Soon church pastors, staff and volunteer members started preparing meals and running the shelter. Hughes said others called the church asking how they could help.

Smart and Final Groceries donated food and drinks, a Starbuck donated breakfast, Grace City church provided air mattresses and pillows. One member of the church’s congregation provided dinner from a Flame Boiler that he owns.

Volunteers like Church members Xavier Limon and David Espinosa helped cook and provide lunch to displaced residents at the church.

“It’s not many times in life that we have to flee our house because of a natural disaster. In times like that, I think it’s important to  provide for people’s basic needs, which is food, shelter, security. Those are some basic needs that we have as people. Providing those needs for people is something that, for me as a Christian, we’re really called to do,” Limon said.

While Limon did not have to evacuate his home he brought a grill to the church. He and Espinosa bought hot dogs, hamburgers and salads to feed people.

Volunteers also restocked supplies.

“We are called to serve the people around us, because Jesus has served us,” Hughes said about his church. “Church happens more between Sundays then on Sunday so we go and be the church to a world that needs Jesus. It needs to be cared for. That’s what we do.”

Hughes said over 70 people used the church for shelter on Monday and Tuesday, half of whom stayed overnight. The church also took in pets.

But not every shelter took in pets.

A press release from Orange County’s Emergency Operations Center directed evacuating residents to take their small pets to OC Animal Care, a shelter in Tustin.

“If (evacuees are) going to go stay in a hotel room, they may not be able to take their three dogs with them or in another case, we brought in over 30 chickens from somebody. There aren’t a lot of places that people can evacuate to that necessarily have the resources to help them to care for their pets. We’re happy to be that support for them,” said Jessica Novillo, the shelter’s public information officer. 

Novillo told the Voice of OC on Wednesday morning that the shelter has taken in a total of 58 animals because of the fire.

Larger animals like cattle and horses were directed to the Orange County Fairground & Event center. Approximately 20 horses are being kept at the Equestrian Center and temporary stalls have been set up in the action sports arena to house more.

Terry Moore, Communications director for the Fairgrounds, said they started to prepare to take animals after the fire broke out.

“There is a lot of horse property in Orange County and a lot of animals that could be in danger of fires are often not in the middle of an urban area, but more in an area that could be prone to fire. There needs to be someplace for the animals to go,” Moore said. “We’re very happy to help.”

Amanda Green, public information officer for OneOC, an emergency volunteer center, said there will be more volunteer opportunities to help out those impacted by the fire in the coming days and weeks.

“We definitely anticipate for the recovery and rebuilding efforts that we’re going to see more need for support,” she said.

OneOC, is the County’s emergency volunteer center used to mobilize volunteers and direct them to nonprofits to help out. For over six months they have been responding to the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve seen just with the pandemic, how important it has been to have so many people coming together for a common cause and I think it’s very similar with the fires, it’s all something that we’re battling together,” Green said. “I think it’s absolutely critical to getting through this and getting to the next phase.”

OneOC is registering volunteers to help out nonprofits on their website.

People are also making donations at this time to help out the two firefighters injured battling the Silverado Fire.

The Orange County Firefighters Local 3631 is raising money for the two firefighters through a GoFundMe page. As of midday Wednesday they’ve raised over $260,000 receiving donations from thousands of people.

Second Harvest CEO Harald Herrmann told the Voice of OC that places where people can get food like the food pantry network and houses of worship are up and running except for those located right next to the fires.

Herrmann added that it’s hard to say if the fires will impact the need for food in Orange County.

“These fires happen to be in or near fairly affluent communities but those could also be communities where people have recently lost their jobs,” he said. “We haven’t got any increased calls for demand and so it’s at this point business, as usual.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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